The new AP Physics 1 and 2 courses are the most significant improvements to high school physics instruction in decades.
But Florida’s public high schools are slow to make the switch from Honors Physics to AP Physics 1 that the developers of the new courses intended.
7,735 Florida public high school students registered for AP Physics 1 this year, and another 576 registered for AP Physics 2, according to data thoughtfully provided by the Florida Department of Education. This total of 8,311 students registered for the two new algebra-based AP physics courses is a substantial increase over the 4,104 students who registered for the algebra-based AP physics course available in 2013-14, AP Physics B. AP Physics B was terminated and replaced by the two-course AP Physics 1 and 2 sequence.
However, AP Physics 1 was also designed to replace Honors Physics, a course which has had questionable effectiveness in Florida. The intended switch from Honors Physics to AP Physics 1 has started slowly, despite the recent approval of the State Board of Education of AP Physics 1 for college physics credit. 26,580 students registered for Honors Physics in Florida in 2013-14, and that number dropped to 23,716 in this fall. Given this drop of about 3,000 students and the increase of about 3,500 in the number of students registered for algebra-based AP courses, we can conclude that about one-eighth of Florida’s 2013-14 Honors Physics classrooms were converted to AP Physics 1 this fall.
The efforts to promote AP Physics 1 and 2 among the three organizations that should be doing so – the College Board, the American Association of Physics Teachers and the Florida Department of Education – have been (to be charitable) low-key. Perhaps if those organizations had done their jobs better Florida would be farther along.
But the glass is also half-full. Given the enormous inertia of the public schools, the switch of one-eighth of Florida’s Honors Physics classrooms to AP Physics 1 in a single year is at least a little gratifying and is perhaps just the beginning of the revolution in high school physics teaching that we are hoping for.