In some ways, the large spread in high school physics enrollment rates in Florida’s high schools is not a surprise. Physics comes last in the traditional high school science sequence – after biology and chemistry. And a student who likes the standard introductory biology class might move on to AP Biology (ditto chemistry) and run out the high school clock without having to take physics. Every teacher with a biology degree took several years’ worth of college chemistry courses but only two semesters of physics – and that probably grudgingly. As a result, it’s easier to find a teacher who might be willing to try teaching chemistry than physics.
So I was surprised when I worked through the Spring 2016 chemistry enrollment rates for Florida’s school districts and found a remarkable range of results (see below).
In fact, the surprises started right at the top of the list. Six of the top ten districts are rural – and all of those rural districts in the top ten have very low physics enrollment rates. Three of the remaining top ten districts are medium-sized districts that are strong in all math and science areas (Brevard, Leon, Seminole). The last of the top ten is a megadistrict (Dade) that is below the state average in physics enrollment rate.
Another surprise occurs closer to the bottom of the list. There are several medium-sized districts (Hernando, Escambia and Lake) with chemistry enrollment rates below 50 – far below the statewide rate of 79.
In looking at the plot, remember that this counts the number of course enrollments in chemistry, so the fairly large number of students who take more than one chemistry course in high school (like Honors Chemistry and then AP Chemistry) can easily drive the enrollment rate over 100.