The public schools should be helping each student achieve to the best of her or his ability.
That doesn’t just apply to the students in the lower half of the achievement spectrum. That means our best and brightest – the top 20% – as well. And that means making sure these students are prepared to assume leadership roles in our new technological economy – and those roles are going to increasingly go to those trained as professional scientists and engineers.
The Florida Legislature has called on the state’s universities to prepare more students for those leadership roles through their undergraduate programs in science and engineering. Those of us at the universities have a responsibility to refine our programs to give students the best possible opportunities to become first-rate scientists and engineers. Some of us – notably in the SUS physics departments – are taking this responsibility seriously.
But we at the universities cannot succeed without the help of Florida’s K-12 schools. And there is now evidence in my own classroom and elsewhere that the state’s K-12 schools are not interested. In my calculus-based intro physics class this summer – populated entirely by students intending to pursue careers in science and engineering – half of the students did not take a physics course in high school. Physics is the basic science behind every engineering discipline. It is the basis of medical advances and our understanding of the planet and universe.
For better or for worse, we understand this pathology all too well. And steps to remedy this situation – and improve the success rate of science and engineering majors in SUS institutions – are well-known and ready to implement.
But the question remains: Does Florida’s K-12 system care? Or does the system consider the science and engineering pipeline to be someone else’s problem?
I hope I don’t already know the answer.