Florida education leaders should keep in mind that science and math are indispensible in preparing leaders

A survey of Fortune 500 CEO’s conducted by the executive search firm Spencer Stuart and published in 2008 showed that the most common bachelor’s degree major among this elite group was engineering.  The 22% of CEO’s that held an engineering degree led two majors that most people would expect to top the list, economics (16%) and business administration (13%).  Accounting (9%) and the general category of liberal arts (6%) were farther behind.

The importance of scientific and technological expertise for 21st century leadership shouldn’t be a surprise.  That is why it is a shame that the science and math that are at the core of technological progress are being crowded out of Florida’s educational agenda.

The implementation of the Common Core, which sets basic levels of education in English language arts and math, is an important and noble task.  However, it has distracted Florida’s policy-makers from the task of developing leaders for our state’s economy from among our own students.

For example, the focus on the Common Core has driven the fact that Florida’s science standards need some serious work from the minds of policy-makers.

The state’s educational leaders rightly brag about the broad-based success our state’s high school students have in Advanced Placement courses in English, social sciences and Spanish, where Florida is among the nation’s leaders.  Yet, in the Advanced Placement calculus and science classes that prepare students for college majors in engineering and science the state is only average.

When Florida’s high school graduating class of 2014 receives its diplomas in May and June, some of the graduates will be designated “scholars” on the basis of requirements set by the Legislature in 2013 and signed into law by Governor Scott.  But even this effort to encourage higher achievement levels is terribly watered down in science and math.  The mathematics requirements for the scholar designation are Algebra 2 and “one credit in statistics or an equally rigorous course”.  By not requiring a year of calculus or even precalculus, the scholar math requirement falls far short of what is necessary to prepare for college majors in engineering or other STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.  The science requirements for the scholar diploma designation are similarly flawed.

Florida’s economy needs home-grown leadership, and the state’s students deserve the opportunity to compete for these leadership roles.  Our students will only have these opportunities if our state is willing to look beyond the Common Core to provide our students with the science and math they need to excel.

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