Science: A major shortcoming of Governor Bush’s education program in Florida

Back on September 21, I wrote to Mike Thomas, former columnist for the Orlando Sentinel and now a blogger for Governor Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education (authoring the EdFly Blog).  I never heard back from him, so to make sure my letter doesn’t go entirely to waste, I decided to post it here. 

Dear Mr. Thomas:

Congratulations on your new job.  I will look forward to seeing what you have to say.

I am writing about a major shortcoming of Governor Bush’s continuing education program in Florida:  science.

Assessments such as NAEP make it clear that Florida’s kids have made progress in math and English language arts and have proven that broad-based academic progress is possible.  And now Florida has taken a lead role in developing the Common Core Standards in math and English language arts, and is leading the PARCC assessment effort.

But science has not been a priority, and progress is not being made in that subject.  On the ACT Science section, the best measure of scientific literacy for high school grads, Florida was ranked 49th (out of 51 because DC is included).  On the 2011 NAEP Science assessment, Florida made no significant progress relative to the rest of the nation and remains behind the national averages.  The FDOE folks have taken pains to point out that certain subgroups have made progress in science, but overall there hasn’t been any.

A science equivalent of the Common Core Standards is under development.  Called the “Next Generation Science Standards”, the standards are being developed by Achieve from a framework assembled by scientists and educational experts for the National Research Council.  Twenty-six states have signed on to the development effort as “lead state partners,” but not Florida.  In fact, the FDOE is having a group of people put patches on the present state standards, which were adopted by the State Board of Education in 2008 but were reviewed very poorly by the Fordham Institute recently.

Before his departure, Commissioner Robinson gave a rather garbled account of the FDOE’s plans for science standards in Florida, but it sounded to me as if Plan A is to stay with the flawed state standards.

Florida has implemented one end-of-course exam in science at the high school level, in biology.  There are none in chemistry or physics, and there are no plans to implement them.

If Florida made science a priority, our kids would make the same progress in that subject that they’ve made in math and English language arts.  It seems to me that we have to do so if we are serious about educating more professionals in science and engineering fields.

Yeah, I’m a physics professor at FSU, so I’m sort of biased on this.  My job is to help the students who walk into the door of my classroom become excellent professional scientists.  I’m doing the best I can with that, and I’d appreciate more help from the K-12 schools.

Thanks for your patience in reading this.  And again, congratulations.

Paul Cottle

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