It’s hard to maintain a culture of excellence in math and science: Leon County’s high school physics enrollment declines 32% over two years

Leon County’s high school physics enrollments are 24% lower this school year than last, and 32% lower than they were in 2014-15.

The course enrollment numbers have been supplied by the Florida Department of Education during the last several years.  The numbers for the present school year come from the department’s fall survey.

The sharp decline highlights how difficult it is to maintain a culture of math and science excellence in high schools, and the enormous impact that a few individuals can make.

When physics teacher Adam LaMee arrived at Rickards High School, there was little or no physics being taught at the school, which hosts an IB program but is otherwise low income.  But by 2014-15, the physics enrollment at Rickards had grown to 160 students, which Adam handled with the help of colleague and veteran physics teacher Lance King.

Adam’s influence reached beyond Rickards as he worked to organize a community of teachers in Leon County.

At about the same time, Zondra Clayton began teaching physics at Godby High School, the district’s other low income school.  However, Godby doesn’t have a magnet program like Rickards’ IB program.  That made what happened next at Godby – an explosion of the physics enrollment to 175 students by 2015-16 – all the more remarkable.

But LaMee left Rickards at the end of the 2014-15 school year to take the Teacher-in-Residence position at the UCF Physics Department.  At the same time, Lance King departed Rickards for Bay County’s Bay High School.  A frantic effort in the summer of 2015 to recruit a star teacher from a nearby county to fill the IB physics position at Rickards failed.  As a result, Rickards enrollment dropped from 160 students in 2014-15 to 133 in 2015-16 and 74 students this year.

Physics enrollments at Chiles, Leon and Lincoln began to decline in 2015-16.  This year, a sharp decline to 102 students occurred at Godby as well – probably returning physics enrollment there to a sustainable level.

This year’s district-wide decline brought Leon County’s physics enrollment rate down to 34 per 100 12th graders, which is still higher than the statewide rate of 22 per 100 12th graders.  But it is far behind the state’s leaders, Brevard County at 84 and Seminole County at 59.  Rural Franklin County has 39 physics enrollments per 100 12th graders this year.  Leon’s physics enrollment rate is just ahead of those in Duval and St. Johns Counties, where the rate is 33 per 100 12th graders.

The national physics-taking rate among the high school graduating class of 2013 was 39%, according to the American Institute of Physics.



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