Despite the research on STEM bachelor’s degree attainment, physics struggles in Tallahassee area high schools

Despite the research on the correlation between high school course-taking and STEM bachelor’s degree attainment, high school physics is in retreat in the Tallahassee region.  The plots above show the results from Tyson et al. [Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 12(3), 243–270 (2007)] that have been shown here many times.  In short, taking high school physics doubles the probability that a student will earn a STEM bachelor’s degree.  And a STEM bachelor’s degree is presently the best vehicle for upward economic mobility.

Nevertheless, high school physics is struggling in the Tallahassee area.  Two schools with many students from disadvantaged backgrounds that offered physics last academic year have dropped physics from their offerings during the present academic year.  Another area high school with a historically strong science program lost both of its excellent and experienced physics teachers last year.  They were replaced with novice physics teachers, but it remains to be seen if either will stay long enough to develop the well-documented increase in effectiveness that comes with the first several years of experience.  The local IB program does not offer IB Physics (although non-IB physics courses are available in that high school) so that many IB grads have no physics background.  Many of the rural schools in the Tallahassee region do not offer any physics.  Florida State University’s Developmental Research School does not offer physics.  When students at the school say they want to take physics, they are directed to sign up for the unproven physics course at the Florida Virtual School.

If you haven’t read it yet, here’s the case for high school physics as published in The Physics Teacher last October:

physics teacher

And just to be obnoxious, I have to repeat the result Harvard’s Phil Sadler announced during his talk at the March Meeting of the American Physical Society in Boston last month:  that those who escape taking high school biology are more likely to become scientists.

Of course, nobody escapes taking biology in Florida.  Students must pass the Biology end-of-course exam to graduate from a public high school in Florida.

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