While the minimum high school graduation requirements in science mandated by the State of Florida continue to lag those in neighboring states, several of Florida’s school districts – Brevard, Duval and Monroe – have jumped ahead by requiring four science classes for high school graduation. Meanwhile, the home counties of Florida’s two highest ranked research universities – FSU and UF – have remained behind by staying with the state’s minimum of three science classes for graduation.
The three districts that pushed ahead to the four-science-course requirement are quite different from each other. Monroe – consisting mostly of the Florida Keys – is a small school district with a total enrollment of only 8,300 students, including 2,600 high school students. Brevard is the home of Kennedy Space Center and has a total enrollment of 73,000 students (22,500 of them in high school). The total enrollment in Duval County, which is entirely incorporated as the City of Jacksonville, is 123,000, with 34,000 high school students.
Brevard was ranked number one in the state on the 2009 Science FCAT in grades 5 and 11, and 6th in grade 8, the only other grade tested.
While many school districts hold back from requiring a fourth science course for graduation – perhaps out of concern for pushing down the already problematic graduation rates – Polk County has found an interesting middle ground. While Polk requires only three science courses for graduation, the district requires one to be biology and one to be Earth/space science. The district also requires that students have a background in both physics and chemistry. They can satisfy this requirement by taking a physical science course that includes components of both. However, the composite physical science course is not offered for Honors credit, so students who are concerned about impressing college admissions officers with the rigor of their high school course selection are compelled to take a year of Honors Chemistry and a year of Honors Physics. In short, college-bound students end up taking four science courses – one each in biology, chemistry, physics and Earth/space science. Students at high risk for not completing high school can graduate while taking three science courses – one each in biology, Earth/space science and physical science.
The home districts of the University of Florida and Florida State University – Alachua and Leon Counties – have not made any moves toward a more rigorous high school science curriculum. Even with the large populations of scientists and other academics and professionals attached to the universities, each of these districts falls back on the state minimum of three science courses for graduation, with two of the courses including a laboratory requirement. As has been noted previously in this blog, the neighboring states of Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi each require four science courses for high school graduation.