89% of Florida high school students have access to a physics course in their schools, but 24 high schools of 1,000 students or more do not offer physics

An analysis of Fall 2015 course enrollments and school populations in Florida reveals that among students in public high schools with active science teaching programs (that is offering Biology 1 or the equivalent), 89% have access to physics courses in their own schools.

Earlier this week, Education Week’s Liana Heitin reported that only 40% of Florida high schools offer physics on the basis of an analysis of data obtained from the Office of Civil Rights of the US Department of Education.

Using data on course enrollments in Fall 2015 supplied by the Florida Department of Education, and focusing on those high schools that offered the only specific science graduation requirement in Florida – Biology 1 or a higher level equivalent – I found that 55% of those high schools offered physics last year.  And those schools account for 89% of the students attending those schools, since the schools that do not offer physics tend to be smaller than average.

The schools that do not offer physics include many alternative schools, small charter schools, small rural high schools and district specialty schools that prepare students for particular career tracks that do not involve significant science and math demands.

However, statewide there are 24 schools of 1,000 students or larger that do not offer physics.  Four are located in the megadistrict Dade (Miami-Southridge Senior High, Hialeah-Miami Lakes Senior High, Barbara Goleman Senior High and Miami Jackson Senior High).  But there are also four each in two districts that while large are not considered to be among the state’s megadistricts – Pasco and Polk.  In Pasco County, the larger high schools without physics are Zephyrhills, Anclote, Gulf and Ridgewood High Schools.  In Polk, they are Lake Gibson Senior High, Lake Region High, Auburndale Senior High, and Mulberry Senior High.

Broward County has two high schools larger than 1,000 students that do not offer physics (Dillard and Hallandale).  Citrus County (Crystal River High), Duval (Westside High), Hernando (Nature Coast Technical High), Lee (Lehigh Senior High), Marion (North Marion High), Nassau (Yulee High), Orange (Jones High), Palm Beach (South Tech Academy), Pinellas (Seminole High), and Sumter (South Sumter High) have one each.

A previous analysis demonstrated that the correlation between physics offerings in Florida school districts and socioeconomic status (as measured by the percentage of students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch) is quite weak.  Instead, the degree to which Florida high schools offer physics and the demand among students for these courses reflect local culture and traditions, with physics-taking rates ranging from zero in ten rural districts and near or below 10% in several medium-sized districts to 70% in Seminole County and 80% in Brevard County.  In this way, high school physics-taking demonstrates the commitment that schools and districts have to preparing their students for the most lucrative STEM careers.

The district physics enrollment rates for Spring 2016 – showing the remarkable spread in rates among districts – are shown below.

district physics taking sp16

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