2016: A visual guide to the year in math and science education in Florida’s high schools

Every student bound for a four-year college should be prepared to choose any major, including those in Georgetown CEW’s top 25 – which are almost all math-intensive majors in engineering, mathematics, computing, physics and economics.  That would require that every high school student bound for a four-year college have chemistry, physics, precalculus and (preferably) calculus.

According to our own survey of state departments of education in summer 2015, Florida was doing poorly in enrolling high school students in physics.

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In fact, despite Florida’s emphasis on enrolling students in AP courses – including financial incentives – and success in AP social science courses, the state is only average in AP math and science courses.  Massachusetts is the national leader in K-12, and in math and science that state blows Florida away.  Florida’s success in non-STEM AP courses and the state’s relatively mediocre performance in STEM shows the state’s “Just Read, Florida!” orientation.

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There was another rather alarming development in Florida’s AP program.  Growth in AP Computer Science in Florida slowed so that the state fell farther behind the nation in this key career driver.

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Florida’s ACT results show the state’s “Just Read!” priority as well.  81% of Florida’s 2016 high school grads took the ACT, and a comparison of our state’s results to those of other states where 80% or more of high school grads took the test is quite revealing.

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Florida’s school districts vary wildly in the rates at which they enroll students in physics, chemistry, precalculus and calculus.

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But contrary to the usual expectation that math and science emphasis are tightly correlated to socioeconomics, physics enrollment rates in Florida have almost no correlation to free and reduced-price lunch eligibility rates and appear to be almost entirely driven by policy decisions made at the district and school levels.

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To take a calculus course in high school, students have to take Algebra 1 in middle school – and the numbers of 7th and 8th graders taking Algebra 1 (and passing Florida’s end-of-course exam) declined in 2016 – an ominous development.

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This decline has stayed under the public radar, and I have no information whatsoever about why this is happening.

In summary, Florida is still struggling to prepare its high school students for the 21st century economy, even as there are signs of progress in math and science education at the elementary level.

 

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