In Florida, dual enrollment math classes are mostly used to earn college credit for learning math content traditionally taught at the high school level.

The dual enrollment program in Florida’s public schools is not making a significant contribution to the state’s pipeline for bachelor’s degree-level STEM fields like engineering, physical sciences and computer science.

In fact, the dominant use of the dual enrollment program in the key STEM subjects of math, chemistry and physics is for students to earn college credit for learning math content that is traditionally learned in high school courses in algebra, trigonometry and precalculus.

In the spring semester of 2019, 13,593 students were enrolled in dual enrollment classes in Precalculus, Trigonometry, College Algebra and even lower level classes like Intermediate Algebra that do not earn college credit. Intermediate Algebra is a “developmental” class taught mostly by institutions in the State College System (previously knows as community colleges) to remediate students who do not yet qualify to take College Algebra.

In contrast, only 1,023 high school students were dual enrolled in the Calculus 1 and Calculus 2 courses required for students majoring in engineering, the physical sciences and computer science. Another 317 were dual enrolled in calculus classes for business and social science majors.

While 2,777 students were dual enrolled in chemistry courses, only 1,578 of those students were enrolled in chemistry courses required for STEM majors.

Only 542 students were dual enrolled in physics classes.

The dual enrollment numbers come from the Spring 2019 course enrollment spreadsheets recently posted by the Florida Department of Education. While the department did not include dual enrollment numbers in its course enrollment spreadsheets for the last several years, those numbers were included this spring.

To meet accreditation requirements, a college instructor must have earned 18 credit hours at the graduate level in the discipline being taught. Therefore, in order to teach a dual enrollment class on a high school campus, a high school teacher must have 18 credit hours in graduate math courses – and math education courses do not count toward that requirement.

Therefore, as difficult as it is for a high school principal to recruit a teacher who is properly certified (with Florida’s Math 6-12 certification) to teach a standard high school precalculus course, it is much more difficult to recruit an educator who has the 18 graduate credit hours in math necessary to teach the dual enrollment version of Precalculus.

Students may also dual enroll to take a course on a college campus, or to take a course from a college instructor online.

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The intensifying shortage of high school math and science teachers threatens to limit Florida’s economic future, and a new report on economic growth from a state business group should have said so.

In its recently released report “Project Sunrise”, the Florida Council of 100 identified several factors limiting Florida’s economic growth – including the state’s sluggish pipeline for educating STEM professionals – and recommended actions to address some of them. But they failed to even mention the importance of rebuilding Florida’s math and science high school teaching corps, which is arguably the most impactful step that can be taken to improve the state’s STEM pipeline.

One of the factors limiting economic growth listed in the Council’s report (which can be downloaded at the bottom of this post) was this: “Florida is not producing enough STEM graduates, ranking 38th in the US.” Of course, those are STEM graduates from the state’s colleges and universities. So what does that have to do with high schools? Everything. Because how well a student prepares for college STEM majors in high school has a tremendous impact on the chances that student has to succeed in college and earn a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field. And in that respect, Florida is doing poorly. A national survey of states in 2015 showed that the rate at which Florida high school students take physics – a requirement for college programs in fields like engineering, life sciences, computer science, physical sciences and even architecture – was only half the national rate. Since then, the number of students enrolled in physics in Florida’s public high schools has declined 12%. Chemistry enrollments in the public high schools have declined 14% in only three years. Despite Florida’s aggressive program of financial incentives for student success in Advanced Placement courses, the state is only at the national average for the fraction of its high school population that takes and passes AP courses in math and science – including calculus.

The intensifying shortage of math and science teachers is playing a tragically large role in this worsening STEM pipeline situation. The number of teaching candidates taking Florida’s high school math certification exam (Math 6-12) for the first time dropped by 42% from 2013 to 2018. The number of candidates taking the chemistry certification exam dropped by 39% during the same period. In physics, the decline was 35% – and in fact only 78 candidates took the physics exam for the first time in 2018. And 36 public high schools in Florida with 1,000 or more students didn’t offer physics at all during the 2018-19 school year.

The teacher bonus program passed by the 2019 Florida Legislature and signed into law by Governor DeSantis might make the math and science teacher shortage worse. Nearly all the new graduates of FSU and UF who started teaching math and science at the high school level in the fall of 2018 will receive “signing bonuses” of about $7,000 from the state’s Best and Brightest teacher scholarship program, which required high ACT or SAT scores. The new teacher bonus program will not require that a new math or science teacher starting in the fall of 2019 have a high ACT or SAT score to receive a signing bonus, but the bonus will be only $4,000. The $7,000 signing bonuses were clearly not solving the math and science teacher recruiting problem, and it’s obvious that the $4,000 bonuses will not do any better.

Why did the Council fail to acknowledge the shortage of math and science teachers in its report? Perhaps the Council’s business DNA doesn’t allow the organization to advocate for the health of the teaching profession, which is largely unionized. Maybe the Council just isn’t very good at connecting dots. It’s really hard to say.

But it’s certain that having Florida’s business community arguing that the state’s teacher shortage should be addressed would be helpful in the 2020 legislative cycle, which begins (gulp!) in only four months. It’s frustrating that the Council of 100 missed an opportunity to do so.

The “Project Sunrise” report can be downloaded from the link below the figures.

Contact me if you want some of these posters.
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Do Florida’s results on the 4th grade reading NAEP exam tell us everything we need to know about the state’s public schools? Or is there more to education than that?

Are Florida’s results on the 4th grade reading section of the National Assessment of Educational Progress the most important measure of the state’s K-12 success?

In a recent Florida Politics opinion piece, Lloyd Brown argued that it is, because “If a student can’t read by the end of the fourth grade, almost nothing else matters.”

But that’s like arguing that the most important part of the Daytona 500 is the first hundred miles because if you don’t finish the first hundred miles you can’t win the race.

In 2019, the most important single educational measure is mathematical skill in 12th grade – because there is little that students can do to earn middle class incomes if they don’t have some number sense and algebraic skills. With apologies to Sue Woltanski (of whom I’m a big fan even though she doesn’t always agree with me), I think the standard high school math exit exam should be the Postsecondary Education Readiness Test (PERT). PERT is the test used by Florida’s institutions previously known as community colleges (now the Florida College System) to decide whether students are ready for college-credit math courses or whether they need “developmental” math courses first. If every high school graduate could earn a score of 123 on the PERT (the score necessary to qualify for the course called College Algebra) many of the state’s issues with postsecondary education would evaporate and every student would be well prepared to earn postsecondary certificates and associates’ degrees that provide access to robust careers with middle class incomes.

Sure high school graduates should be able to read. But math has been a bigger problem for Florida than reading on the SAT and ACT exams taken mostly by 11th and 12th graders. And given the growing shortage of certified high school math teachers, this math problem will not be solved any time soon.

Why does it matter that Brown argues that Florida’s results on the 4th grade NAEP reading exam are the most important metric of the state’s K-12 success? Because he then goes on to argue that since Florida does well on 4th grade reading that the state’s public schools are just fine and the present funding levels are sufficient. Florida’s public schools are not fine. The math scores earned by the state’s students on the SAT and the ACT are proof of that.

Of course, most of us want our public schools to do more than produce minimally decent average scores on standardized math and science exams. We want our public K-12 schools to give every student the opportunity to fulfill her or his potential academically. For some students, that means learning reading, writing and math well enough to pass the PERT and earn a postsecondary certification in dental hygiene or welding or web design. For other students, that means capping off a stellar academic career with 5’s on the Advanced Placement Physics C exams, or taking Calculus 3 at a local university or college, or serving as editor for a school newspaper, or earning a seat on Florida’s All-State band. Attracting the teachers and other personnel needed to give students those opportunities requires significant investments by school districts and state government.

There is another bit of Brown’s argument worth mentioning: He compares Florida’s educational outcomes (at least the few he values) to those in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi, as if those three states are our competition. They aren’t. Florida’s students are competing with those from Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey and Texas. And Singapore, China and Finland.

Brown’s argument raises the Really Big Question that we haven’t yet addressed as a state: What opportunities should Florida’s public schools offer students? Should those opportunities be limited to learning math, reading and writing at a basic level? Or should our schools have the resources to help students achieve at world class levels? Florida’s leaders seem to be drifting toward the idea that schools really only need to provide a basic education – and that’s all we are willing to pay for. I hope they change their minds.

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Chiles still best among public high schools in Leon County for STEM career prep, but Godby is the real success story

As it has been for years, Chiles High School is still the best public high school in Leon County for the rate at which students take the math and science courses most important for preparing for bachelor’s degree-level STEM majors – physics, chemistry, precalculus and calculus.

But that’s not surprising given the affluence of the school’s student body. The percentage of Chiles students eligible for free and reduced-price lunches is only 8.9%, according to the Florida Department of Education.

The real story in Leon County is how well Godby High School continues to do in math and science course-taking with its economically challenged student body. Godby’s free and reduced-price lunch eligibility rate is 87.5%.

Even though Godby doesn’t offer calculus, its high rate of physics, chemistry and precalculus course-taking gives its students a fighting chance to succeed in fields such as engineering and the health professions.

The enrollment rates for the subjects featured here – physics, chemistry, precalculus and calculus – are calculated as explained in this post from February. The STEM Career Prep Index shown above is the sum of those enrollment rates.

The public high schools in Leon County remain strongly economically segregated, with three schools (Leon, Lincoln, FSU Lab School) having free and reduced-price eligibility rates in the 20’s, Chiles below 10%, and Godby and Rickards in the 80’s. Rickards also has an IB magnet program, which provides much of its course-taking in math and science.

FSU’s lab school (known as Florida State University Schools or Florida High) is run as a charter. While the school is located in Leon County, it is not authorized by the Leon County school district – it is run by FSU’s College of Education and its funding does not flow through the Leon County school district.

The course enrollment rates for physics, chemistry, precalculus and calculus are shown below.

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Florida’s teacher shortage: Did we just take a step backward?

For the last several years, the Best and Brightest teacher bonus program has provided “signing bonuses” of about $7,000 for nearly all new FSU graduates who have gone on to teach math and science in Florida’s public schools after graduation.

The Florida Legislature just reduced the signing bonus amount for new FSU grads going into math and science teaching to $4,000. Will that hurt the recruiting of math and science teachers? That remains to be seen. But it will not help.

Florida’s program of large (about $7,000 each) teacher bonuses required relatively high SAT or ACT scores to qualify – a provision that was controversial from the day it was passed by the Legislature. Nearly all students who entered FSU as “FTIC’s” (First Time In College – what we used to call freshmen in the pre-Advanced Placement days) had SAT or ACT scores well above the minimum for the $7,000 bonuses, which were awarded to first-year teachers who completed a year on the job and whose SAT or ACT scores were high enough.

The omnibus education bill sent to Governor DeSantis’ desk by the Legislature, SB 7070 (which also included the Family Empowerment Scholarship program), made significant changes to the state’s teacher bonus programs. The teacher bonus program that required fairly high SAT or ACT scores for eligibility has been terminated. In its place is a new program that provides $4,000 signing bonuses for new teachers in math, science, reading and civics (with no SAT/ACT condition for eligibility).

Of course, while new FSU graduates who are becoming math or science teachers will have smaller signing bonuses than those who did so a year or two before, the situation is worse for 2019 FSU graduates who are going to teach subjects that aren’t math, science, reading or civics. For example, a 2018 graduate of FSU whose SAT or ACT score was high enough and who went on to teach English during the 2018-19 school year will receive the same bonus of about $7,000 as those who taught math or science. But a 2019 FSU graduate who teaches English at a Florida public school next year will not receive a signing bonus at all.

Of course, it’s not clear that the $7,000 signing bonuses were improving the recruiting of math and science teachers, anyway. The numbers of individuals taking and passing the state’s Math 6-12 teacher certification exam – a measurement of the number of new math teachers entering the profession – have continued to decline despite the Best and Brightest signing bonuses. (See graph below)

During the last several years, Georgia State University researchers have published studies of two programs of financial incentives intended to recruit and retain math and science teachers. One was a loan forgiveness program in Florida that was cancelled after the recession. The other was a Georgia program of bonuses in each of the first six years on the job. Both the Florida and Georgia programs provided about $20,000 to a math or science teacher who made it through five or six years of teaching. The researchers demonstrated that the programs made it more likely that a teacher would stay on the job long enough to earn the full value of the program, but they could not say that the programs helped recruit new teachers into the profession in the first place.

What would it take to attract more strong college graduates into math and science teaching? Probably the same things that would attract anyone to any job. Young people want to have the resources necessary to pay off their student loans and live decent lives. They want to have the option of starting families. They want to have the opportunity to succeed in their careers, and they would like their successes to be recognized.

It seems unlikely that the modest bonuses included in SB 7070 will draw more FSU students – and students from other institutions like UCF – into teaching careers. So once more, the responsibility for confronting the state’s teacher shortage will fall to the school districts. The districts have a real challenge ahead of them.

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How is Florida’s K-12 STEM pipeline doing? A comparison of Florida with Massachusetts and Texas.

In a Foundation for Florida’s Future blog post celebrating the 20th anniversary of our state’s “A+ Plan”, Fordham Institute and Stanford University researcher Chester Finn identified Florida and Massachusetts as the two “poster states” for successful education reform.

Finn noted that:

The Bay State got going in 1993 with a “grand compromise” Education Reform Act that raised standards for kids, teachers and schools alike, launched some of the country’s best charter schools (though not enough of them!) and lubricated the process with a considerable investment of dollars. Most importantly, Massachusetts kept at it in a bipartisan way through one election after another and resisted all manner of efforts to slow down, rein in or simply weaken the course of reform. In consequence, it has achieved America’s strongest academic track record and is basically the only state with achievement results that now rival the “Asian tigers.”

While Massachusetts and Florida were implementing accountability and choice reforms, Texas instituted the “4×4 Plan”, which raised course-taking requirements for high school students – requiring Algebra 2 and Physics for graduation, for example. The 4×4 Plan was repealed in 2013, but the improvements in high school course taking brought on by the Plan seem to have persisted, according to UTeach founder Michael Marder.

In this post, I will compare the middle and high school STEM pipelines in Florida, Massachusetts and Texas using NAEP 8th grade math and Advanced Placement data. My primary conclusion is what the reader expects – Massachusetts is far ahead of Florida in math and science achievement according to these two data sets, although both states continue to struggle with achievement among students from disadvantaged backgrounds and who are members of underrepresented minorities. Florida and Texas – which have demographic similarities – are not so far apart according to NAEP and AP data.

First of all, it’s important to acknowledge the demographic differences among the three states under discussion here. Florida and Texas have significantly larger percentages of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunches (each about 60%) than Massachusetts does (about 40%).

Massachusetts also has smaller populations of the minority groups historically underrepresented in STEM fields – black and Hispanic students.

Florida and Texas differ as well. The student population in Texas is majority Hispanic, while Florida has a larger percentage of black students than Texas does.

Nevertheless, a comparison of the STEM pipelines in the three states reveals a surprise or two. Our first stop in the pipeline is at the 8th grade NAEP math exam, for which the most recent results available are from 2017. The first set of results in the plot below show what most K-12 STEM aficionadoes already know – that Massachusetts 8th graders are far ahead of those in Florida and Texas. The statistic I’ve chosen to display is the percentage of students whose NAEP achievement level is proficient or above – that is, those who are on track for bachelor’s degree-level STEM degrees.

What some readers might find surprising in that plot is that Massachusetts is getting better results with its black and Hispanic students than Florida and Texas are. Florida education reform advocates often brag that the state’s “achievement gaps” between advantaged and disadvantaged populations are laudably small. What the above graph suggests is that these gaps are small not because Florida does so well educating students from historically underserved populations but because the state’s presumably well-served populations are underperforming.

The next plot, which compares the NAEP results for students who are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches with those who are not, reinforces that point.

It’s also worth noting that Texas is either matching or exceeding Florida’s performance among all the population segments we are looking at here on the 8th grade math NAEP assessment.

Our next stop in the K-12 STEM pipeline is at the Advanced Placement level. Florida’s AP numbers have been pumped up by the state’s policy of paying for student exams and providing financial incentives for teachers and schools for passing exam scores. This strategy has been quite successful for improving performance on AP social science exams. However, the state remains at the national average in performance measures on AP math and science exams.

The plot below compares Florida with Massachusetts and Texas in the number of AP math and science exams passed per 1,000 high school students. Both Florida and Texas are at about the national average rate, while Massachusetts is a national leader. (Data are from the College Board’s AP Program Participation and Performance page)

It’s worth noting that Florida is a little ahead of Texas on this metric – no doubt in part because of the financial incentives built into Florida’s AP program.

The two plots below illustrate the issue of underrepresentation of black and Hispanic students among students who pass the seven AP exams most likely to correlate to success in engineering, the physical sciences and computing at the bachelor’s degree level – Calculus AB and BC, Computer Science A, Physics 1 and 2 (which are algebra-based) and the calculus-based physics courses (Physics C Mechanics and Physics C Electricity and Magnetism). The first plot shows that all three states share a tremendous problem when it comes to black students in these courses. The red lines show the percentages of black students among the total K-12 populations in the three states. In all three states, the representation of black students among exam passers is tragically low. None of the three states has even come close to solving this problem yet.

The story is only a little different for Hispanic students in the three states. Florida has come the closest to solving the problem of Hispanic underrepresentation. Massachusetts and Texas still have a very long way to go.

The bottom line is this: The K-12 STEM pipeline in Massachusetts is far superior to those in Florida and Texas for the general population, and in fact the NAEP 8th grade math results reveal that Massachusetts is doing a better job teaching math to black and Hispanic students and low-income students than Florida and Texas are. However, at the most advanced high school level, all three states are struggling with the issue of underrepresentation of black and Hispanic students. Only Florida has made progress with one part of this problem – Hispanic students.

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FSU’s Panama City campus to host teacher workshop on using dance to teach physics

Florida State University’s Panama City campus will host a workshop for science teachers from Bay County and the Panhandle on using dance to teach physics concepts on June 21 and 22. The workshop will be led by two professors from California’s Santa Clara University who teach a college-level course on the physics of dance and by the Bozeman School’s chemistry and physics teacher, Denise Newsome.

The Santa Clara University professors are David Popalisky, Chair of the University’s Department of Theater and Dance, and Richard Barber of the Department of Physics. They described their physics and dance course in an article in Physics World in 2008. Video from the Santa Clara course can be viewed on Vimeo.

In addition to her work at the Bozeman School, Newsome leads a summer camp on the physics of dance for Bay County students at FSU-PC. The camp has been featured in the Panama City News Herald.

The camp is being made possible by support from the office of FSU President John Thrasher.

To learn more about the workshop, contact Ginger Littleton, who is the STEM Liaison for FSU’s Panama City campus.

Physics Professor Rich Barber (next to screen) and Dance Professor David Popalisky (sitting next to Periodic Table) in a scene from a video on the Santa Clara University dance and physics class.
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