About a year ago, a world-renowned physicist and advocate for STEM education in a northern state told me he didn’t think that Florida could become a strong STEM education state because the state’s culture of mediocrity in math and science education is too deeply ingrained.
I’ve spent much of the last few months visiting and talking with parents, teachers, administrators, counselors, students and policy-makers in several of the state’s school districts, and during those visits I’ve thought a great deal about that famous physicist’s assertion. I understand (probably much better than he does) the obstacles that Florida faces at all levels, ranging from parent resistance to the reluctance of policy-makers to genuinely embrace our evidence-based knowledge about how to improve student learning in math and science.
But I’m excited enough by some of what I’ve seen – including the Mosley Miracle and the faces of the parents and students at our Future Physicists of Florida induction ceremonies in Bay and Monroe Counties and at FSU this fall – to keep going.
However, the extraordinary transformation underway at Bay County’s Mosley High School not only shows what is possible but also demonstrates why such transformations don’t happen more often. Mosley’s amazing progress – their miracle – has been driven by an array of determined counselors, teachers and administrators who have had the ability to reach out to parents and students in a persuasive (even compelling) way. In some sense, I have served as a catalyst there, but I am clearly the least important of the moving parts in the Mosley Miracle. To be sure, not every member of the Mosley Family has been an active advocate for STEM improvement. But the counselors, teachers and administrators who have committed their hearts to the process have been allowed to move ahead without active resistance from others. One other thing: If even one of the committed individuals at Mosley had decided not to be involved, it’s unlikely that the progress we’ve seen would have occurred. Every single one of them has had an indispensable role.
I hope the description of the Mosley Miracle in the last paragraph makes it clear how even single individuals can block change, and what is necessary for a school to move forward.
At least one member of a school’s leadership team has to be actively committed to STEM progress, and the principal has to at least stay out of the way.
Counselors have to be willing to look students in their eyes and talk about the importance of signing up for those next (sometimes daunting) math and science courses – those courses in chemistry, physics, precalculus and calculus that are critical to opening career opportunities.
Math and science teachers have to be committed to the success of the students not just at the top of the heap who have always been successful, but also to that next tier of students that could succeed if the teacher made the difficult decision to trade in her or his lecture model for a hands-on approach.
Parents have to overcome their own anxieties about math and science and encourage their children to do things that the parents never did themselves. After all, children are facing more daunting economic challenges than their parents did when they were young.
Any of those – administrators, counselors, teachers and parents – can stop improvement in its tracks. That’s why the Mosley Miracle is so special, and why it provides a model for other schools around Florida.
And adopting the Mosley model widely is the only way for Florida to prove that the naysayer in the opening paragraph – that famous physicist from a northern state – is wrong about the future of our state’s students.