I received several thoughtful e-mails in response to yesterday’s Tallahassee Democrat op-ed on the decline of black students’ share of Florida State University System bachelors’ degrees in science and engineering. (All the data in that op-ed was given in more detail here). One asked if I was advocating affirmative action. I responded that I was not – not even close. Here is my full response:
No, not affirmative action. Not at all.
Here are three steps we can take to get more students from all backgrounds to be strong science and math students:
1) Have school and district leadership decide science is important. There is a tendency in schools where there are more low income students to deemphasize science and math. However, there are schools in Florida with many low income students that do well in science and math. The leaders at those schools have decided that science and math will be important, and that just getting students to read is not enough.
2) Do whatever it takes to recruit strong math and science teachers to high needs schools. It is tough to recruit college graduates in math and science fields into K-12 teaching, and it’s even tougher to get such students to take jobs at schools with lots of low income students. As a result, teachers at high needs schools tend to have more science and math teachers who are weak in the subjects themselves. We must address that.
3) Change the way we teach science and math. If we stop lecturing at students and engage them with proven hands-on teaching techniques, we can double their learning gains. The attached is a picture of my own class at FSU.
We don’t have to lower the bar to get more students into science and engineering fields. But we do have to change the way we prioritize subjects, recruit teachers and teach our classes.