Florida will soon allow high school students to substitute a 3D printing certification for Geometry in the state’s graduation requirements

Florida Statute language on high school graduation requirements

At present, the graduation requirements for Florida’s public high schools nominally include four credits in math and three in science. I use the word “nominally” because the state’s statutes presently allow students to substitute certain industry certifications for two of the math credits and two of the science credits.

But until now, the state has left intact the requirements for the highest priority math courses – Algebra 1 and Geometry – and the highest priority science course – Biology.

It appears that is about to change.

Three separate bills (HB 7055, HB 7071, SB 770) advancing through the Legislature in this session’s final weeks include language that would allow a “student who earns an industry certification in 3D rapid prototype printing” to “satisfy up to two credits of the mathematics requirement, with the exception of Algebra I, if the commissioner identifies the certification as being equivalent in rigor to the mathematics credit or credits.” That is, the 3D printing certification can be used to substitute for Geometry in Florida’s graduation requirements, if the Commissioner of Education approves.

Why is that a problem? Nearly all jobs that can support a middle class lifestyle over the long term require some sort of postsecondary credential – either a certification or an associate’s degree. To achieve either, students need a certain amount of mathematical skill – in short, a student will almost certainly need to pass College Algebra at some point. Nibbling away at the high school graduation requirement in math will make it less likely that students will be able to succeed in College Algebra and earn postsecondary credentials that will lead to good jobs that are sustainable over the long term.

I have serious doubts about the long-term durability of jobs in 3D rapid prototype printing. While a high school graduate with such a certification might be able to make a good living for a few years, the 3D printing job will almost certainly become obsolete while the student is still in her or his 20’s. And without the mathematical skill to move on to a postsecondary credential, she or he will be left high and dry economically.

There seems to be little point in complaining about the inevitable. But in adopting the 3D printing certification substitution, Florida will be crossing an important threshold in lowering the high school graduation bar. It seems unlikely that this action, and similar future actions, will serve the state’s young people well.

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Convincing parents about the importance of high school math and science courses is necessary to improve preparation for college STEM majors

If we are going to open the doors of opportunity to careers in fields like engineering, physical sciences, computing and architecture for more middle and high school students, we are going to have to convince the parents of those students about the importance of the advanced high school courses in math and science that are necessary to prepare properly for college majors in those fields.

There is research to back this assertion up from the Wisconsin Study on Families and Work, and my experience meeting with parents at Bay County’s Mosley High School has provided spectacular confirmation of the Wisconsin results.

I tell almost every audience I visit that winning over parents is critical to success in widening students’ career options. On Tuesday, I had two visits with Pasco County educational leaders – one with staff at the county’s school district and the other with administrators at the Dayspring Academy charter school network – and told them the same thing.

Of course, teachers and educational leaders have to make it a priority for students to have access to precalculus, calculus, chemistry and physics courses. That is presently an issue in Pasco County, where four of the district’s large (more than 1,000 students) high schools do not presently offer physics – and neither does Dayspring. But if leaders have the will, that can be fixed – and every leader I visited with on Tuesday seemed determined to do so.

My argument that we must convince parents of the importance of taking advanced math and science courses in high school implies that parents don’t always know what’s best for their own children, and some educators find that argument difficult to swallow. But perhaps a story about an encounter I had with the mother of an 8th grader after a presentation to a parent group a few years ago can make that argument a little easier to accept. My presentation to parent groups about the importance of taking advanced math and science courses in high school focuses on careers in engineering, health sciences and computing (a power point from one of my parent presentations is linked below). But this one evening, I happened to mention the physics and calculus required to enter graduate school in architecture, a subject about which I know a little bit because our middle child is an architect. After my presentation, the mother approached me and seemed quite upset. She told me that she had held her 8th grader back from taking Algebra 1 in middle school (which allows a student to stay in the pipeline to take a first calculus course in high school) because she thought that architecture only required artistic skills and did not require math and science. “Have I destroyed my son’s chances for being an architect?” she asked. I responded that while her son would have been better off taking the opportunity his school had offered to enroll in Algebra 1 in 8th grade, that he should take the course in 9th grade as planned and persevere through the high school math course sequence (after Algebra 1 – Geometry, Algebra 2 and Precalculus). He would then take his calculus coursework entirely in college instead of starting in high school. And he would probably be OK.

That mom didn’t know best, at least at first. But when she was provided with an opportunity to learn what was best for her son’s career ambition, she embraced it.

Not all parents are willing to accept the challenging advice on high school course-taking so willingly. Often they are hindered by their own educational and career experiences from twenty years ago, when the world and its economy were very different and math and science were less important for careers that can support middle class lifestyles. But the Wisconsin study showed that many parents are open-minded enough about the world in which their children will have to compete that they are willing to accept challenging advice and act on it by coaxing their children to take on high school courses in precalculus, calculus, chemistry and physics.

Our high schools owe every parent the opportunity to learn about the realities of education and the modern economy. And those same schools owe every student access to course offerings in subjects like calculus and physics so that they can prepare for those realities.

The link to a power point of a presentation I gave to Mosley High School parents in April of 2018 is here:

My daughter Allison Peitz defending her thesis for the Master of Architecture degree at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 2017.

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Swimming against the tide of Florida’s intensifying teacher shortage: Orange County Public Schools leaders visit with students and faculty at FSU’s Physics Department

Florida’s state government is not going to solve the state’s intensifying teacher shortage – at least not anytime soon.

So it’s up to the districts and their leaders to look for new ways to recruit the strong teachers that their students need to succeed.

While most districts confine their university recruiting efforts to the Colleges of Education, Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) has been working with science and math departments directly and reaching out to students who had not previously considered teaching careers. And they’ve found some success in doing so – particularly at their hometown university, the University of Central Florida (described in an Orlando Sentinel article here).

But the OCPS leaders have reached out to the FSU Physics Department as well. During their visit to the department last year, the Superintendent’s Chief of Staff Bridget Williams, Senior Administrator for Science and Social Studies Rebecca Ray and Director of Talent Acquisition Bonnie Toffoli had some success. Cody Smith (B.S. Physics, 2018) is now teaching at Apopka High School. A second recruit from last year is planning to join the district in the fall.

Williams, Ray and Toffoli returned to the FSU Physics Department yesterday for another recruiting visit. Their audience was modest – smaller than last year’s – but it included two Physics Professors (Simon Capstick and Volker Crede, in addition to the host for the visit and the department’s designated school district liaison – me) and FSU-Teach Clinical Faculty Member for math and physics Logan Chalfant.

OCPS hosts Florida’s most important initiative for recruiting students from disadvantaged backgrounds into the STEM pipeline – the Calculus Project (a Sentinel article on the project is linked here). The students who attended seemed to be left with a positive impression of how well they could change the lives of such students in Orange County, where there is leadership support for improving the preparation of students from a wide range of backgrounds for college STEM majors.

Regardless of the constraints imposed by limited budgets and the expanding challenges of running public schools in a large metropolitan area or indeed anywhere, students still deserve to learn the skills necessary to thrive in our modern economy, and our society owes them the opportunity to do just that. The three leaders who visited the FSU Physics Department yesterday are doing everything they can to help our society meet that obligation in an era of limited resources.

OCPS Chief of Staff Bridget Williams speaking to the audience at the FSU Physics Department on April 2. (Photo from Bonnie Toffoli)
The group assembled for the OCPS teacher recruiting visit at the FSU Physics Department on April 2. One person missing from the group is Bonnie Toffoli, who took this picture.
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NCTQ President Kate Walsh incorrectly argues in today’s Tallahassee Democrat that having a workaround for Florida’s General Knowledge teacher certification test would harm student learning. Here’s why she’s wrong.

The President of the National Council for Teacher Quality, Kate Walsh, argued in this morning’s Tallahassee Democrat that Florida should continue to require the state’s General Knowledge teacher certification test for all teaching candidates. I’ve submitted a response to the Democrat. Here it is.

Florida’s parents want and deserve to have confidence that their children’s teachers have a strong understanding of the subjects they are teaching. The state’s subject-specific teacher certification exams provide an admirable method for making sure that is the case.

But Florida also requires teaching candidates to take a second exam, called the General Knowledge test, that doesn’t provide any additional assurance that teachers understand the subject they are teaching. In fact, the General Knowledge test deprives the state’s students of access to many teachers who are experts in their fields – especially those who have previously had careers outside the K-12 schools and who would like to share their professional experience with students.

According to Tampa Bay-area journalist Katie LeGrone, more than 1,000 individuals who were already teaching in Florida’s classrooms and who had demonstrated their subject competence by earning temporary certifications were terminated in the summer of 2018 alone because they did not pass the General Knowledge test.

In her Monday op-ed (“Don’t lower the bar to become a teacher in Florida”, April 1), Kate Walsh defends the duplicative General Knowledge exam. She argues that removing the requirement for passing the General Knowledge test would allow “teachers in the classroom who can’t demonstrate the very skills they are asked to teach.” This argument is just wrong. Every teacher must pass a subject-specific certification test that adequately demonstrates competence in her or his field. For example, high school physics teachers must pass the states Physics 6-12 certification exam. Dropping the General Knowledge test wouldn’t change that at all.

The case of Escambia County teacher Emily Mixon, reported by LeGrone and the Pensacola News Journal, provides an excellent example of the way in which the General Knowledge test deprives Florida’s students of access to individuals with professional expertise in their fields. After spending more than a decade in Pensacola’s performing arts community, Mixon decided to teach theater and dance at Escambia High School. She had been teaching with a temporary certificate and had been evaluated by her principal at Escambia as an effective teacher. But last summer, Mixon was terminated because she could not pass the math portion of the General Knowledge test, which tests algebra and statistics skills. That is, Mixon was fired because she lacked math skills that were not relevant to the subjects she was teaching. As a result, Escambia High School’s students lost access to Mixon’s deep well of professional experience in the arts.

The General Knowledge test is a classic example of the overregulation of a profession that is hurting that profession’s clients – in this case, Florida’s students. It is not surprising that those with a stake in the teacher regulatory apparatus would defend this test, even though there is no evidence that maintaining the test improves the learning of the state’s students.

Florida’s teacher shortage is intensifying. The Florida Department of Education and the state’s school districts are devoting resources and effort to helping teachers pass the General Knowledge test that could be used in more constructive ways. The Legislature should pass House Bill 7061, which would provide a workaround for the General Knowledge test, so that it no longer deprives the state’s students of fine teachers.

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Would providing a way for teachers, schools and districts to work around the General Knowledge certification test – as HB 7061 proposes to do – hurt student learning? I don’t think so, and here is why…

If I were still young enough to have kids in Florida’s public K-12 schools, I would want their physics teachers to know their physics and how to teach it effectively, their math teachers to be strong in math content and to understand how best to help my kids learn math, and their English teachers to be strong in understanding and teaching language arts.

Teaching candidates must pass two state certification exams that arguably make sure that teachers know what they need to help their students learn effectively. They also have to pass one – called the General Knowledge test – that almost certainly doesn’t. A legislative proposal being considered by the House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee on Monday would deemphasize the General Knowledge test, and the subcommittee should recommend it favorably.

At present, each teacher candidate in Florida must take three exams administered by the Florida Department of Education. One is the subject certification test (A physics teacher candidate must take the physics certification test, which has historically had a 60% passing rate – and we are all OK with that). In place of subject certification tests, elementary and early childhood teaching candidates must pass tests that are specific to those certifications but which cover all subjects appropriate for those grade levels.

The second test is something called the Professional Education test. It covers pedagogical and curriculum issues that presumably all subjects have in common. Nobody has proposed touching that, either.

The third test is the General Knowledge test. That is where there are two legislative proposals for modification. One is in SB 7070, the omnibus Senate PreK-12 leadership bill. That bill would extend the time for temporarily certified teachers to pass the General Knowledge test from the present one year to three years. Right now, temporarily certified teachers must pass the General Knowledge test in their first year, even though their temporary certificates are valid for three years. Extending the time to pass the General Knowledge test to three years should be an obvious step.

The second legislative proposal on the General Knowledge test, which is contained in HB 7061 (which started its legislative journey with a bipartisan unanimous vote by the House PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee and which will be considered by the House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee on Monday) would allow teachers to skip the General Knowledge test if they successfully complete a mentoring program. I like this better than the Senate proposal, although I’d prefer killing the General Knowledge test altogether.

In math at least, the General Knowledge test examines knowledge at the level of College Algebra and what we would call a baby statistics course. A good high school grad should be able to blow the test away, in my opinion. But for someone who has been working in the arts or some field like that for a decade or so after graduating from college and who wants to change to a K-12 teaching career, the math test can be insurmountable. When you hear about the high casualty rate of one of the certification exams, that is the sort of thing that’s happening most. One thousand Florida teachers who were teaching in 2017-18 on temporary certificates (which are good for three years) lost their jobs last summer because they couldn’t pass the General Knowledge test.

School districts are spending substantial resources trying to get their temporarily certified teachers through the General Knowledge test (although I haven’t heard of a single case where a physics teacher had trouble with the General Knowledge test). Those are resources that could be spent elsewhere – for example doing the sort of innovative recruiting that Orange County is doing (going directly to science departments to talk with students who are not in teaching majors). That’s why I think we should terminate the General Knowledge test.

The closest we can get to terminating the General Knowledge test this year is the proposal contained in HB 7061. This proposal should be included in the Legislature’s final education package this session so that teachers and districts can spend a little more effort and resources on doing what actually helps students learn better.

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Is Florida’s STEM push “paying dividends”? If the measure of success is preparing our state’s own students for success in fields like engineering, computer science and medical professions, then no.

The Lakeland Ledger recently published an editorial titled “Florida’s STEM push is paying dividends” that mostly reported on a ranking of “Most Innovative States” posted by the personal finance web site WalletHub that showed Florida ranked 18th among the 50 states plus DC. The Ledger’s editorial board concluded that our state’s “STEM push” is working.

As far as I’m concerned, the most important measure of our state’s STEM success is whether we are opening the doors of opportunity to fields in engineering, science and computing to students from the widest possible range of backgrounds. Using that measure, Florida’s STEM push has been unsuccessful so far.

WalletHub broke its “Most Innovative States” ranking down into to subscores – one called “Innovation Environment” and the other, “Human Capital”. Of course, I care about the “Human Capital” subscore more because that’s what I do for a living – I “develop Human Capital”. (Especially after the year I’ve had with my students, that sounds so dehumanizing!) WalletHub ranks Florida 22nd in Human Capital.

But even WalletHub’s Human Capital subscore has problems. Of the seven metrics that WalletHub includes in its Human Capital subscore, two directly measure K-12 outcomes. One is the performance of the state’s students on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 8th grade math and science exams. Florida’s 8th graders were below average on the 2018 NAEP math exam but were somewhat better on the most recent NAEP science exam – the one given in 2015.

The other K-12 Human Capital metric is “AP Exam Performance”, in which Florida is famously successful. That is, Florida is a national leader in AP Exam performance when you look across all subjects, including social sciences, arts, world languages and English – and that’s what counts in the WalletHub ranking. But if you look just at the performance of Florida’s students in AP math and science courses, the state is distressingly average despite the state’s system of financial rewards to teachers and schools for AP success. That is, Florida’s bonuses to teachers and schools for AP success drive the state’s position of national leadership in AP courses in non-science and math subjects, but are unsuccessful in pushing the state above average in AP math and science.

Perhaps what’s even more distressing about Florida’s AP results is the lack of success among the state’s black students in subjects that require strong math skills, including calculus, physics and the upper level computer science course, Computer Science A.

Can Florida right the K-12 STEM ship? Only with more great teachers of math and science. And how is that going? Not well. The number of high school math teaching candidates taking the state’s certification exam dropped 42% between 2013 and 2018. The recruiting of science teachers isn’t going well, either.

I can share any number of discouraging statistics about the upper level high school math and science courses that Florida students need to prepare for college majors in fields like engineering, computer science and the health professions. Physics enrollments in the state’s public high schools are down 12% in the last four years. Chemistry enrollments are down 14% in only three years.

And yes, that matters at the college level. About 1/3 of the students in my introductory calculus-based physics course (taken mostly by students majoring in engineering, the physical sciences and computing) didn’t take a physics course in high school. On the average, those unprepared students earn grades a full letter grade below those of their well-prepared classmates. Some do better, and a distressing number do worse. And in case you are ready to ask – I am teaching using the best evidence-based pedagogy available to help underprepared students. (Our physics colleagues at UF require students without high school physics to take an additional – and online – course before entering their equivalent of the course I teach)

So I think the Ledger’s editorial board has it all wrong. Florida’s is doing poorly in preparing its own students for the best STEM opportunities. And the state is going backwards.

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Florida’s teacher shortage: Numbers of first-time examinees taking and passing state’s high school math certification exam continued their sharp declines in 2018

The number of high school math teaching candidates taking Florida’s Math 6-12 certification exam for the first time continued to decline in 2018, as did the number of first-time examinees passing the exam. The number of candidates taking the Math 6-12 exam for the first time has dropped by 42% since 2013, and the number of first-time examinees passing the exam has declined by 45% during that period.

The continuing decline in the number of individuals seeking high school math teaching certification provides yet another signal that Florida’s teacher shortage is intensifying, and that the steps taken so far to address the shortage – like the Best and Brightest bonuses for first-year teachers with SAT or ACT scores in the 80th percentile or above – have been ineffective.

The numbers of teachers taking certification exams in high school science subjects for the first time (and passing those exams) are either constant or declining. The sharpest decline is in the number of candidates seeking certification in Earth/Space Science. The high school science certification exam results are shown below.

The exam results for 2015-18 are taken from a report that the Florida Department of Education posted late last week. Earlier years were taken from previously posted reports.

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