Meet the Parents: Probably the only way forward for STEM career preparation in Florida

There are about 2.7 million students in Florida’s public K-12 schools.

It looks like I need to talk with their parents.  All of them.

I spent a relatively small amount of time last week watching the webcasts of meetings of education-related committees of the Florida Legislature.  I also read the fine coverage of the progress of education issues in the legislature by the Orlando Sentinel’s Leslie Postal, the Tampa Bay Times’ Jeff Solochek, and others.  It could be argued that with the legislative session still a month away from its start it’s way to early to reach this conclusion, but here it is:  The 2017 Florida Legislature has little or no interest in improving the preparation of the state’s middle and high school students for STEM careers.

I spent much of Tuesday doing something much more fruitful – talking with parents at Bay County’s Mosley High School.

I met with about a dozen parents on Tuesday morning, and in that meeting I was hosted by the school’s Counselors for the MAPPS (Mosley AP Program for Success) program, Sharon Hofer and Laura Evans.  Assistant Principal Marcus Cowart, Principal-designate Brian Bullock, and Bay County School Board Chair Ginger Littleton attended as well.  Present Principal Sandy Harrison, who is busy overseeing construction of the school’s new performing arts center, also dropped in.  Some of the parents at that meeting were leaders in the MAPPS program, and several others were parents of 8th graders thinking about where their children should attend high school.  We discussed the importance of the upper level math and science courses needed to prepare for college majors in STEM and health fields.

Tuesday evening, I met with a larger group of MAPPS parents and students, once again hosted by Sharon and Laura.  Marcus, Brian and Sandy were there as well.  We were joined by MAPPS Coordinator Paul Durden.  And we had a special guest – Dr. Jim Cook, who is a retired cardiologist and (as I have come to realize) an actual pillar of the community.

After I shared with the parents about the importance of chemistry, physics, precalculus and calculus for preparing for college, Dr. Cook talked about the importance of physics in the practice of medicine.  Connecting to your audience is incredibly valuable, and Jim Cook knew how to do that – the parents in the room ate it up.

Since last year, Mosley enrollments in chemistry have risen 58% and the physics enrollment has gone up a factor of six (from 6 to 35).  Enrollments in precalculus and calculus are up as well.  The primary credit for these increases belongs with the MAPPS staff, teachers and administrators.  But in addition to that, talking with the parents seems to be working at Mosley.

Parents seem to be the key to improving their children’s preparation for STEM careers (there is a bit of research on this issue here).  There are already school districts in Florida where most parents understand the importance of preparing in high school for STEM careers – led by Seminole County (see the plot of the sum of enrollment rates in chemistry, physics, precalculus and calculus shown below).  There are many more where most parents don’t get it.  But when it comes right down to it, even if Commissioner Stewart and House Speaker Corcoran suddenly became passionate advocates for STEM career preparation and used every ounce of their considerable power to increase high school enrollments in chemistry, physics, precalculus and calculus, somebody would still have to talk with the parents in small groups or individually to convince them it was a good idea.

So I should spend more time talking with parents, and less time watching legislative webcasts.  After all, I have about 2.7 million more parents to talk with.

The power point I used at Mosley on Tuesday evening is here:

mosley24jan17

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