Florida vs. Missouri in K-12: Which state is better?

Two states with Republican governors – Florida and Missouri.

Missouri’s Governor Eric Greitens said in his State of the State address in January that “we have an education system that ranks near last in every measure that matters.”

[Editor’s note:  A fact check on one of the claims made by Greitens performed by Missouri Politifact reporter Grace Hase got me interested in Missouri]

In contrast, Florida’s leaders, including Governor Rick Scott, insist that Florida’s K-12 system is a model for the nation.  They have devoted an entire web site, “Florida Students Achieve”, to making sure that message gets out there.

What do the objective, verifiable data say about this?  In which state are K-12 students achieving more?

Below I show eight comparisons of K-12 student achievement in Florida and Missouri taken from the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and the ACT college entrance exam for the high school graduating class of 2016.  The ACT rankings shown are limited to those states in which more than 80% of the graduating class took the ACT.  Missouri is one of several states in which all 2016 high school graduates took the ACT.  In Florida, 81% of the 2016 graduates did so.

The bottom line?  Florida’s 4th graders are a bit ahead of Missouri’s.  But by 8th grade, Missouri’s students have blown by Florida’s – although in math both states are inexcusably weak.  Missouri’s students are ahead of Florida’s on three of the four ACT sections.  Florida’s lead only in reading.  After all, Florida is the “Just Read!” state.

The lesson here is not to take political rhetoric on education too terribly seriously without checking the data.  It’s a lesson that my regular readers (both of them) already knew, long before I started blogging eight years (and 100K page views) ago.

And I’ll take this opportunity to plug the proposal to replace all of Florida’s statewide standardized high school tests with the ACT one more time.  The primary objection to doing so – that the ACT framework doesn’t exactly match the state’s standards – is just so much smoke.  The ACT framework is what the nation expects from Florida’s students.  We should stop screwing around and just adopt the ACT as our high school test for federal accountability purposes.









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The State of Missouri is arguing about whether it’s doing high school physics well. Politifact Missouri has stepped in, and…

The State of Missouri is having an argument over whether it is doing a good job delivering physics courses to its high school students.  It’s the sort of argument you would never hear in Florida (or at least in most parts of Florida).

But before I tell you too much myself, I’m going to turn this over to the Columbia Missourian, which published an article on the dispute written by reporter Grace Hase.  The article is titled “FACT CHECK: Greitens overstates number of students not enrolled in physics”.

At this year’s State of the State Address, newly elected Gov. Eric Greitens discussed problems with the Missouri education system and why he believes Missouri schools rank last in almost every area.

Greitens, a Republican, offered some interesting statistics about how so few students are enrolled in certain math and science courses. His statement about physics enrollment stood out.

“What we need to do is make sure that the money we spend finds its way into the classroom,” Greitens said. “Over half of Missouri school districts do not offer a single Advanced Placement class. Over 200 of our 520 school districts did not have a single student in physics. Over 100 did not have a single student enrolled in chemistry.

“We need to expand course access programs, so that every child in Missouri can use technology to get the education they need.”

The governor’s claim about enrollment numbers for Missouri high school students in physics courses seemed a bit low. So we wondered, is this really the case? And if so, why do so few Missouri school districts offer physics?

What the numbers show

Greitens spokesman Parker Briden said the office pulled data from a report compiled by a think tank called the Show-Me Institute. The report, which focused on course access in Missouri, requested information from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on enrollment of various courses offered in public schools.

The report said that, “During the 2014-2015 school year, of the 507 school districts that offer high school in the state … 213 districts had no students enrolled in physics.” However, PolitiFact Missouri called into question these numbers, and on Feb. 8, the Show-Me Institute issued a correction to its data.

According to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, there are 448 school districts offering high school courses in Missouri — not the 507 that the Show-Me Institute had previously stated, or the 520 that Greitens claimed.

With the new calculations, the Show-Me Institute found that 154 of those districts — not 213 — had no students enrolled in physics.

Why are so few students enrolled?

Even after the Show-Me Institute’s correction, the data still showed that a large number of students in Missouri weren’t enrolled in physics during the 2014-2015 school year. However, when the Show-Me Institute crunched its numbers, it only included higher-level courses for each subject. It didn’t take into account the ninth grade course, “Physics First.”

A TIME for Physics First , a program that was created as part of a grant in 2009, takes a different approach to teaching high school science. Meera Chandrasekhar, a leader of the program team and physics professor at MU, said that Physics First reverses the high school science sequence and allows students to apply the algebra skills they are just learning.

“It gets students in ninth grade started off in a really good footing for upper-level science courses because physics is a fundamental science,” Chandrasekhar said.

How many students really are studying physics?

In order to find out how many students are in any physics course in Missouri, we decided to crunch our own numbers independently from the Show-Me Institute. Turns out there was a bit of a difference.

When the Show-Me Institute compiled and published its report, it didn’t use finalized numbers for the 2014-2015 school year. The most recent numbers from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education showed that of the 448 school districts offering high school in Missouri, 178 districts did not offer upper-level physics courses. When adding in Physics First, 156 school districts did not offer any physics course.

Even though there isn’t a large difference between the two sets of data, 22 of these school districts actually offer Physics First only. Chandrasekhar said that this has to do with requirements for high school teachers.

To be able to teach physics at the high school level, a teacher must have the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in physics. Physics First, however, is taught as more of an introductory science course and the program offers training for high school science teachers who are qualified in other areas such as biology or chemistry. This is a benefit for more rural schools in Missouri that might not necessarily have the resources to hire a physics teacher since physics is not a required science.

“Every child in ninth grade gets to take a physics class then,” Chandrasekhar said. “It essentially boosts the numbers.”

The national picture

When Greitens made his claim about physics enrollment, it was part of a much larger claim — that education in Missouri is behind.

“We have an education system that ranks near last in every measure that matter,” Greitens said.

However, when it comes to physics, that’s far from the truth. Paul Cottle, a physics professor at Florida State University, has focused some of his research on physics course access in the United States. As a part of his research, he requested data from every state education department on its physics enrollment numbers.

For the 2014-2015 school year, Missouri ranked sixth out of the 29 states from which Cottle received data. Missouri’s physics enrollment numbers were also above 50 percent, compared with the 23 other states, which had enrollment rates below 42 percent.

Our ruling

Greitens said that over 200 of 520 school districts in Missouri didn’t have any students enrolled in physics.

The data that Greitens used for his claim contained incorrect information and didn’t account for students enrolled in the Physics First course.

Part of Greitens overall claim was that the Missouri education system ranks nearly last in every category. But when it comes to physics, Missouri has an above-average enrollment rate.

We rate this claim as Mostly False.

A few notes on this article:

First, the source that Ms. Hase used for our national physics study (which actually owes more credit to Duval County physics teacher Connor Oswald than to me) was this Bridge to Tomorrow post.  It includes a manuscript intended for journal publication that never quite made it.  So the manuscript never made it to The Physics Teacher, but it made it to the Columbia Missourian.  I’ll settle for that.

Second, the national physics survey results are wrapped in a slicker package in this power point of my plenary talk at the 2016 PhysTEC Conference.

Third, my ancestral home is a little town called Cottleville, which isn’t too far from St. Louis.  So this citation is a homecoming of sorts for me.


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APS STEM teacher report: What worries undergraduates about teaching? What frustrates practicing teachers?

While our policy-makers ponder (or mostly ignore) what it would take to reverse the decline in Florida’s teacher pipeline, it’s worth considering the results of the recently released American Physical Society report “Recruiting Teachers in High-needs STEM Fields: A Survey of Current Majors and Recent STEM Graduates.”

When the American Physical Society surveyed undergraduates majoring in chemistry, computer science, math and physics about their perceptions of teaching careers, they included an open-ended question asking the undergraduates to give descriptions of things that would worry them about being a middle or high school teacher.  This chart illustrates the results:


The APS also surveyed recent graduates who are now teaching and asked them to provide open-ended descriptions of things that they like least about being a middle or high school teacher.  Here are the results:


Of course, these are the results of national surveys that do not reflect the special conditions we have here in Florida, including salaries considerably lower than the national average.

But it might be worth keeping in mind one thing I keep hearing from my own students when I raise the issue of teaching careers.  My students tell me over and over again that their own high school teachers told them that teaching in Florida is an awful career choice.  That is a difficult influence to overcome, and it is one that every teacher recruiter and policy-maker should keep in mind.

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Florida’s declining teacher pipeline on the agenda for FL House Education Committee meeting today

Florida’s worsening teacher shortage is on the agenda for today’s meeting of the House Education Committee.  The meeting packet has a series of power point slides using data from the ACT college entrance exam.  That data includes student responses to questions about career plans.  The meeting packet is worth looking at.

Two of the more notable slides are shown below.



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Bay County economic development triumph opens up new opportunities for local students

Bay County business and education leaders are elated about the arrival of GKN Aerospace.  It is one more step toward building the high-tech economy that every city wants.

As Eryn Dion reported in the Panama City News-Herald, Gulf Coast State College (GCSC) and FSU’s Panama City campus played central roles in bringing GKN to Bay County by promising to provide the highly trained workforce – including bachelor-level engineers and associate-level technologists – that GKN needs to succeed.

But GCSC and FSU-PC cannot fulfill their promises to GKN and other local technology employers without well-prepared students graduating from Bay County’s high schools.

Fortunately, the Bay County School District is in the midst of a rapid improvement in preparing its high school students for STEM careers.  This year, there are twice as many students taking physics in Bay County’s high schools as there were a year ago.  In one school – Mosley High School – the number of physics students has risen from six to 35 since last year, and there are 58% more students taking chemistry.  The numbers of students taking precalculus and calculus at Mosley are up as well.  It’s an extraordinary development.

This success in Bay County’s high schools is due to a remarkable collaboration of teachers, counselors and administrators at the school level and district administrators.  FSU-PC and GCSC are also making remarkable contributions at the middle and high school levels that are tightly coupled to the district’s needs.  Even FSU’s President John Thrasher has pitched in by purchasing $40,000 worth of physics lab equipment for loan to Bay County high schools.

As if that weren’t enough, retired cardiologist and community leader Jim Cook and his wife Jana have made a $100,000 contribution to FSU-PC’s K-12 STEM outreach work, and to commemorate this FSU-PC has named the Bay County Future Physicists of Florida effort in honor of the Cooks.

Making the explosive growth of Bay County’s technology industry base sustainable will certainly require the continuing contributions of local economic development officials and postsecondary institutions.  But it will also require the determination of the district’s high school students and their parents, as well as ongoing support from teachers, counselors and administrators at their schools.  It is a heavy lift, but so far the entire Bay County community seems to be rising to the challenge.

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Montford proposal would eliminate Geometry and Algebra 2 EOC’s and likely allow districts to substitute ACT/SAT for FSA 10th grade ELA exam

Senator Bill Montford has filed a complex proposal (SB 964) to alter Florida’s K-12 accountability system that would – among many other changes – terminate end-of-course exams in Geometry and Algebra 2.  It would also likely allow districts to substitute the ACT or SAT for the FSA 10th grade English Language Arts exam – pending a determination by the Commissioner of Education that these exams are “substantially aligned with the applicable state standards”.

While Montford is a Democrat, he may be the Senate’s most influential minority member.  His experience in the K-12 system and his day job as CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents (FADSS) give him considerable authority on education issues.

Montford’s bill would also eliminate the end-of-course exams in Civics and US History.  However, it would leave the EOC’s for Algebra 1 and Biology in place.

The bill would also require the availability of pencil-and-paper versions of state tests, and would make changes in the accountability of charter high schools.

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American Physical Society releases study on recruiting K-12 math, physics, chemistry and computing teachers

The APS press release on the report is given below.  The average teacher salaries quoted here are national salaries and do not reflect the below-national-average salaries paid in Florida.

Highly Trained STEM Teachers Needed to Boost America’s Global Competitiveness, According to New Study

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 14, 2017 – The United States’ global competitiveness is at risk as the nation confronts persistent shortages of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) teachers in subjects such as physics, chemistry, and computer science. More than half of all high school physics teachers lacked certification in the discipline in 2012, for example.

As a result, students who are interested in STEM careers find themselves ill prepared to compete in an increasingly highly technical workforce. A new study by the American Physical Society, in collaboration with the American Chemical Society, Computing Research Association, and Mathematics Teacher Education Partnership, addresses the reasons why STEM students shy away from teaching as a career and offers ways to counter the trend.

“Many of the best opportunities in the United States for challenging and rewarding jobs will require mastery of subjects such as computer science and physics. Every student in every high school deserves a great teacher in these fields — but right now the teachers are simply not enough,” said Michael Marder, a physicist at The University of Texas at Austin who co-authored the study.

Companies such as Apple, ExxonMobil, and Boeing rely on employees with technical talent to provide world-class products and services, and careers in STEM-related disciplines are expected to be some of the best paid and fastest-growing during the next decades.

But too few U.S. students complete STEM degrees. One possible reason: exposure to STEM disciplines is limited during high school. In European and Asian countries, high school students often take four or five years of physics. But in the U.S., only about 40 percent of students take as much as one year of physics, and only half of those courses will be taught by a teacher who majored or minored in the discipline.

The report found a quarter of all STEM majors are “somewhat interested to very interested” in the teaching profession. But several factors keep them from pursuing teaching careers, including concerns about salaries.

Misconceptions about teaching abound, the study showed. For instance, students often believe teachers are poorly paid and teach in unruly classrooms. The truth is that they earn more money than most people think they do, and they have control of their classrooms.

Middle and high school teachers earn an average of $58,760 and $60,270, respectively, according to the study — more than the average college lecturer or instructor. Interestingly, undergraduate STEM majors underestimate teacher compensation by around $17,000 per year.

To encourage more STEM majors and graduates to become teachers, the report recommends professional societies and disciplinary departments:

  • Impress upon university faculty and advisers in STEM disciplinary departments the importance of promoting middle and high school teaching with their undergraduate majors and graduate students, and of providing them accurate information about the actual salary and positive features of teaching.
  • Support high quality academic programs that prepare students for STEM teaching and expand good models to more universities. Strong programs provide improved coursework, prevent certification from requiring extra time, and support their students and graduates financially and academically.
  • Support expansion of programs that provide financial and other support for students pursuing STEM teaching.
  • Advocate for increases in annual compensation, including summer stipends, on the order of $5,000 – $25,000 for teachers in the hardest-to-staff STEM disciplines.
  • Support programs that improve the professional life and community of STEM teachers.
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