With chemistry, physics and calculus, a high school student is ready for any college major. How is your district doing in calculus?

According to the American Society for Engineering Education, high school courses in chemistry, physics and calculus provide a strong foundation for a college engineering major.  Those courses also provide strong preparation for college majors in math, computer science, statistics, physics, health professions, the life sciences and chemistry.

So a student who has strong high school learning experiences in chemistry, physics and calculus is ready for any college major.  (OK, not a music performance major.  But you know what I mean.)

But finding math teachers who are strong enough in math themselves to comfortably teach calculus is difficult.  Check the job postings for your district.  How many open positions are there for teachers who can handle calculus?  And there’s no evidence that situation is improving.

But districts that make calculus a priority for their high schools find a way.  The ranking of districts shown below tells you which districts take this imperative most seriously.

As usual, the data come from the Florida Department of Education.  The calculus enrollments include Honors Calculus, which I’ve been known to grump about in the past.


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The surprising spread of chemistry enrollment rates in Florida high schools: How did this happen?

In some ways, the large spread in high school physics enrollment rates in Florida’s high schools is not a surprise.  Physics comes last in the traditional high school science sequence – after biology and chemistry.  And a student who likes the standard introductory biology class might move on to AP Biology (ditto chemistry) and run out the high school clock without having to take physics.  Every teacher with a biology degree took several years’ worth of college chemistry courses but only two semesters of physics – and that probably grudgingly.  As a result, it’s easier to find a teacher who might be willing to try teaching chemistry than physics.

So I was surprised when I worked through the Spring 2016 chemistry enrollment rates for Florida’s school districts and found a remarkable range of results (see below).

In fact, the surprises started right at the top of the list.  Six of the top ten districts are rural – and all of those rural districts in the top ten have very low physics enrollment rates.  Three of the remaining top ten districts are medium-sized districts that are strong in all math and science areas (Brevard, Leon, Seminole).  The last of the top ten is a megadistrict (Dade) that is below the state average in physics enrollment rate.

Another surprise occurs closer to the bottom of the list.  There are several medium-sized districts (Hernando, Escambia and Lake) with chemistry enrollment rates below 50 – far below the statewide rate of 79.

In looking at the plot, remember that this counts the number of course enrollments in chemistry, so the fairly large number of students who take more than one chemistry course in high school (like Honors Chemistry and then AP Chemistry) can easily drive the enrollment rate over 100.



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Florida’s K-12 system hasn’t gotten the memo about the importance of high school physics, but maybe your district has. Take a look here.

Florida’s high school physics enrollment rate remains stuck at at 23 enrollments per 100 12th graders, about where it’s been since I started paying attention in 2009.  Given the rhetorical emphasis on STEM careers from Florida’s education and political leaders, that’s an extraordinary statistic.

Florida remains far behind the nation in high school physics course-taking.  The national physics course-taking rate as reported by the American Institute of Physics is 39%.  The enrollment rate reported here is not identical to the course-taking rate because the students who take two physics courses in high school push the enrollment rate higher.  So Florida’s physics course enrollment rate should be considered an upper limit on the physics course-taking rate – the course-taking rate is actually a bit lower than 23% (and therefore farther behind the national course-taking rate than it initially appears).

But several districts are outstanding in high school physics, as the reader can see in the plot below for Spring 2016.  (As always, the numbers used to calculate the enrollment rates come from the best-in-the-nation FLDOE web site)

Brevard and Seminole Counties are outstanding by any standard.  Physics is an important part of the high school culture in those districts.

Then there is rural Franklin County, a newcomer to the top of the ranking.  Franklin had 45 students enrolled in a regular Physics 1 course last spring.  They also had 67 12th graders.  For this, Franklin County earns an Official Bridge to Tomorrow “Woot!”

Leon County is the only remaining district with an enrollment rate that exceeds the national course-taking rate, although the district had about 100 fewer physics students in Sprng 2016 than it did in Spring 2015.

Even affluent St. Johns County – Florida’s only truly affluent school district – is well below the national rate.


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Thank you Nancy, Rachel and Sean! High school physics has a bright future in Bay County.


The number of students taking physics in Bay County’s district high schools will more than double this fall over last year’s number.

And those students will be in good hands.  Trust me on this.  Over the last six weeks, I spent 36 hours with three of the district’s five physics teachers.  You can see them in the picture above.  Bay High School’s Nancy Browne is on the left, Rutherford’s Rachel Morris is in the center, and Mosley’s Sean O’Donnell is on the right.

During the last two years, about half of the students Rachel and Sean have taught in AP Physics 1 have passed the exam.  Compare that to the national rate – the national passing rate for AP Physics 1 is close to 40%.  That is, Rachel and Sean have beaten the national passing rate.

Nancy, Rachel and Sean are planning to meet frequently this school year to keep the AP Physics 1 success going as the district joins the National Math and Science Initiative College Readiness Program, which emphasizes AP courses in math, science and English.

Lance King (Mosley) and Dirk Naegele (Arnold) will also be teaching AP Physics 1 in Bay County this year.  Lance will be joining Mosley as its new Science Department Chair.

It’s going to be a very good year for high school physics in Bay County.

Thank you Nancy, Rachel and Sean for letting me be part of it.

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Should we be preparing our kids for global competition? Or should we be building protectionist walls instead?

At a high school swim team event I attended with my son several years ago, I sat with the mother of another swimmer named Kaitlyn and the “host parent” of an exchange student from Shanghai, China named Jenni. The host parent was holding our attention with what she had to say about the academic choices Jenni was making. Jenni, who was in 10th grade, had insisted on taking all AP and “Pre-AP” courses, despite the host parent’s advice to take it easy so that she would have more time to relax. The host parent had raised several grown children of her own and she didn’t understand why Jenni insisted on working so hard. In fact, the host parent seemed quite frustrated with the situation. She insisted that the Chinese were ruining the lives of their children by teaching them to study with such intensity.

My own kids worked pretty hard in high school. During 11th grade, each took six Advanced Placement courses (including physics and calculus) while also swimming between three and five hours per day. Kaitlyn was working just as hard, although with a different mix of activities.

While the host parent described her concerns about Jenni, Kaitlyn’s mom and I exchanged knowing looks. Jenni – a very sweet young woman who was also a member of the school swim team on which Kaitlyn and my son were members – represented the kind of competition for which we were preparing our kids. American kids have to be able to compete with Shanghai kids like Jenni – and kids from Beijing, Seoul, Singapore, Helsinki and Berlin – if they are to be economically successful themselves. Furthermore, our kids must be successful in this competition if America is to continue in its role as the world’s leading nation.

Many parents – and even many policy-makers – haven’t yet accepted the fact that our kids are going to have to work harder than they did to succeed in the new economic world. Algebra isn’t a luxury for the privileged few – it’s now a skill required for many of the jobs which provide a middle class income, even those at the associate degree or certificate level. Students who show up at a four-year college without chemistry, physics and precalculus are locked out of nearly all the college majors that lead to the highest incomes. In fact, even coming to college without a calculus credit leaves a student at a disadvantage.

Several months ago, I had a brief conversation with a member of Florida’s political class about this issue. I told him that we must get to the point where saying “I’m not a math person” sounds just as ridiculous as saying “I’m not a reading person”. He looked stricken and admitted to not being a “math person” himself. Building a society where everyone is mathematically competent seemed inconceivable to him.

For parents and voters who refuse to accept the fact that our kids must work harder and have stronger skills than we did to be successful in a global economy, the natural reaction is to build protectionist walls against the competition from other nations. Such beliefs are now taking center stage in our presidential campaign. Protectionism is a much easier and more appealing reaction than making the difficult decision to drive our kids forward to higher levels of achievement (and making the financial commitments necessary to back that up). I just hope we don’t fall into that trap in the months ahead.

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The Official Bridge to Tomorrow Endorsement for Leon County Superintendent of Schools!

What are the most important issues for the next Leon County Superintendent of Schools to address?

No matter what you’ve heard from the candidates about testing and standards (“NO COMMON CORE IN LEON COUNTY SCHOOLS!!”) it doesn’t matter, because legislators and State Board of Education members make those decisions.

As for FBI investigations and whistleblowers?  Well, I have to leave that to the FBI and the lawyers.

The two issues that our next Superintendent has to be strong on are these:  equity and STEM.

The equity issue is not really any worse in Leon County than it is in most districts, but there are still sizable disparities in student achievement between district schools in affluent and disadvantaged neighborhoods.  The primary remedy for this gap is to attract more great teachers to schools in disadvantaged neighborhoods, and the next superintendent needs to understand this issue deeply and make a commitment to addressing it.

As for science and math education (STEM):  It may be that Leon County is better than most Florida districts, but that is a pretty low bar.  By national standards, Leon County is average in high school math and science.  And the district still falls far behind Florida’s science and math superpowers – Brevard and Seminole Counties.  And as for Brevard and Seminole – they would be average in Massachusetts.  Leon County’s kids have a lifetime of rigorous competition ahead of them, and most of them are not as prepared as they should be.  The district must do better.  And how about this?  No high school in Leon County offered AP Computer Science last year.

Leon County needs a superintendent who is fully committed to addressing both equity and improving STEM education.

So which of the candidates is prepared to take these issues on at an expert level?  I looked through the web sites of the candidates who have web sites (and Forrest Van Camp’s Facebook page).  I didn’t find the word “science” once.  Nor “STEM” (except as the last syllable in “system”).  And as for the equity issue:  Jackie Pons has had his chance to address this.  Rocky probably cares, but he is a bit weaker than the others on the science issue (despite having married a science teacher).

The other declared candidates?  Uh, no.

So this is what I’m going to do:  On Election Day in November, I’m going to write in the name of Zondra Clayton, the star teacher at Godby High School who has turned that school – which is on the more challenging end of the socioeconomic spectrum – into a hothouse for physics.  Nobody in Leon County understands the nexus of equity and STEM career preparation better than Zondra.  In fact, nobody is close.

So that’s it:  The Official Bridge to Tomorrow Endorsement for Leon County Superintendent of Schools goes to Zondra Clayton.

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Deane Bozeman School in Bay County is looking for a high school science teacher. Here is why you should apply for the job.

The Bay County School District appears to be starting down the road to an extraordinary turnaround in math and science.  You could become part of it by joining the team at the Deane Bozeman School, a public PreK-12 school located 12 miles north of Lynn Haven (and 15 miles north of the Panama City Mall) in rural northern Bay County.  Bozeman presently has 1,300 students.

Here is a letter written to potential applicants by Bozeman’s principal, Josh Balkom:


You are receiving this email because Searchsoft has identified you as an applicant who has, or is eligible for, Florida certification in Biology and/or Physics and/or Chemistry. DON’T WORRY ABOUT THIS PART!!

I need you at my school!

Bozeman is an amazing K-12 school nestled in a more rural area of Bay County. We have incredible parental support, a warm and loving school community and we’d love to add a highly effective well qualified science teacher to our secondary staff.

Please email the principal, Josh Balkom, directly at the balkojm@bay.k12.fl.us if you have any interest in finding out more about this amazing opportunity.

Yes, Bozeman is looking for a renaissance science teacher at the high school level.

Here’s why you want to be part of what’s happening with Bay County Schools:

Anybody who reads the graphs in my blog carefully knows that what has distinguished Bay County in the past has been that it underperformed in preparing students for STEM careers.  Its physics enrollment rate last spring – that is, the number of students registered for physics courses in district schools divided by the number of 12th graders – was 6.1.  That compares to 23 for the state, about 45 for Leon County and about 70 for Brevard and Seminole Counties.  In all, Bay County had 101 students registered for physics classes this spring.

And the story was similar in chemistry and upper level math courses.

But for this coming fall, there are six sections of physics – about 150 students – at Bay High School (the district’s lowest SES school) alone.  Altogether, the district will be well over 200 physics students.

What happened?  (Or more to the point, What is happening?)  The district has always had the pieces in place to make a rapid move upward in math and science education.  Most people know Panama City as a tourist destination, but the city is anchored by Tyndall Air Force Base and a major research and development laboratory complex run by the Navy.  Florida State University’s Panama City branch campus includes a small but strong engineering school.  Gulf Coast State College now features the Advanced Technology Center.

There are four medium-sized high schools in Panama City and Panama City Beach – Arnold, Bay, Mosley and Rutherford.  Five certified physics teachers are located at those four schools (Dirk Naegele at Arnold, Lance King and Sean O’Donnell at Mosley, Nancy Browne at Bay, and at Rutherford Rachel Morris, who won Governor Scott’s Shine Award for teachers).

But what happened is that a group of leaders at the school and district levels – a group that includes district staff, assistant principals, guidance counselors, academic program coordinators and teachers – has decided that enough is enough and they are going to make math and science in Bay County first-rate.  I will mention three leaders at the district level – Superintendent Bill Husfelt, Science Supervisor Katie McCurdy and Board Member Ginger Littleton – and stop there because I have had the privilege to meet and work with many extraordinary people at the school level and I can’t list them all here.  If you want a visible taste of what’s happening in Bay County, read this from last Sunday’s Panama City News Herald.

Heck, even FSU President John Thrasher has gotten into it.  He authorized a purchase of $40,000 of physics teaching lab equipment to be used at Bay, Mosley and Rutherford High Schools.  That equipment will be in place for the fall semester.

It’s happening in Bay County, folks.  There will be pushback and there will be speed bumps.  But it’s happening.

You know you want to be part of it.  And Bozeman is giving you a chance.

I met Bozeman Principal Josh Balkom at one of the monthly meetings this past school year at which school and district staff discussed how to increase enrollments in upper level math and science classes.  Bozeman is an environment that is quite different from the district’s four main high schools.  But Principal Balkom wants to make sure that his students have the same opportunities that students at Arnold, Bay, Mosley and Rutherford have.  Take my word for it – he is serious.

The Bozeman job is an extraordinary opportunity for a teacher who wants to be in on the project to change the life trajectories of students.  All the pieces are in place for success.

Send Josh Balkom an e-mail and let him know you are interested.



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