Last month, a science education advocate from a northern state that is quite strong in math and science told me that while he admired my efforts to change the science and math education culture in Florida, he didn’t think that real change is possible here. This advocate is accomplished at the highest level, experienced in political interfacing with the K-12 system, and quite visible in the media. Based on all that, I have to concede that he may be right.
Certainly my efforts are feeble. As I admitted to an audience at a national conference in February, my conversations and those of a few colleagues with policy-makers in Florida over the last six or seven years haven’t resulted in any coordinated statewide efforts to improve STEM-readiness among K-12 students. It’s not that such efforts never worked anywhere. As I demonstrated to attendees at the conference, initiatives at the state level have resulted in improved preparation for STEM careers in Georgia, Nebraska, and Texas.
But Florida’s educational leaders are just not interested. Hostile, even. For example, Florida’s disastrous drop in middle school math achievement as demonstrated by the 2015 NAEP exam has not prompted any action. The financial and school grade incentives for students to take AP courses have caused only an explosion in the number of students taking social science courses like AP Human Geography. In AP math and science, Florida remains stubbornly average.
So I’ve taken my “show”, such as it is, to lower levels, working with districts, schools and even individual teachers. I seem incapable of throwing up my hands and turning my efforts to (say) taking more vacations. I am only a physicist, but if there are any psychologists (professional or amateur) among the few people who read this blog they may have a diagnosis. I will ask that they keep their diagnoses to themselves.
Perhaps the best diagnosis I’ve been given was from a special person I worked with years ago. As a going-away present from the job at which I had the privilege to work with her, she gave me a framed print of Picasso’s Don Quixote. It still occupies a place of honor on the wall of my office. If you are ever on a videoconference with me, you’ll notice that I will have arranged my computer and its camera so that the Picasso is visible in the background. It’s the best clue for those who don’t know me well about my nature.