Policy responses to the IB Physics disconnect

Every IB diploma graduate should be fully prepared to lead in our technological society either as a citizen equipped to deal with the choices on energy and climate that we face, or as a scientific and technological innovator.  If IB graduates are not prepared for either of these roles, then we should not be supporting these programs with extra resources and guaranteed access to the Bright Futures program.

Here are two policy options for turning around the neglect of the sciences by many of Florida’s IB programs:

1)      Require at least four science courses – including one each in biology, chemistry, physics and Earth/space science – for Bright Futures eligibility.  This proposal comes straight from the white paper prepared by 90 science faculty members from 13 institutions around Florida last summer.

2)      Require courses in these same four subjects for admission to the state’s universities.  Such a policy at Louisiana State University caused a sharp increase in the physics-taking rate among that state’s high school graduates, according to the American Institute of Physics.

SB 4 – now law in our state – requires OPPAGA (the Florida Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability) to study the possibility of differentiated high school diplomas so that a proposal on this can be considered by the legislature in 2011.  OPPAGA should start by asking what our IB programs are for if they are producing graduates whose preparation in science is substandard.

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2 Responses to Policy responses to the IB Physics disconnect

  1. Bob Calder says:

    To what extent does this track with Physics First? I heard Ledermann talk about it in 2005.

    I am thankful I got physics in seventh grade and heave felt it was probably beneficial.

  2. Paul Cottle says:

    Lederman’s Physics First push – which is continuing now with efforts in Rhode Island, Missouri and Baltimore – is to have a fairly conceptual physics class taught as a first high school science course so that chemistry and biology can be built on that. The National Academy of Education recently endorsed this approach in a white paper on high school science. It’s worth noting that professional development is critical to making Physics First work. A Physics First effort in San Diego crashed and burned because of a lack of attention to professional development, and that set the national effort back a decade.

    However, I am not pushing Physics First here in Florida. I am just trying to hold off Physics-not-at-all. The physics course-taking rate in Florida high schools is declining, we are already below the national physics course-taking rate, and even our IB schools do not consider the subject a priority.

    And while SB 4 was a step forward for science, it will probably not affect the physics course-taking rate much, if at all. This semester, half of the 35 biology, chemistry and engineering majors in my introductory course had not had a high school physics course. And it showed. Some of these students are going to have to come back and take the course again, which is not a wonderful use of resources – ours or theirs.

    And while I cannot offer any statistics on this, I can share that anybody who is an IB booster would find the results IB alumni have in my class to be quite discouraging.

    I am using a progressive pedagogy, and my failure rate is probably considerably below that of the traditional lecture course my department offers.

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