It’s something that everybody knows: K-12 student achievement and opportunity are strongly correlated with the socioeconomic status of students.
But for STEM career preparation in Florida, it’s not that simple. Instead, choices made by school and district leaders – and parents – play an enormous role in determining whether middle and high schools are preparing students adequately for college majors in STEM fields.
The figures below illustrate that even among districts with similar student populations in terms of socioeconomics – as measured by the percentage of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch (FRL) – measures of student progress toward readiness for college majors in STEM fields varies considerably.
The figures feature two Central Florida school districts – Orange and Seminole Counties. Orange County is an urban megadistrict that recently distinguished itself by earning a number one ranking statewide for middle school Algebra 1 achievement. Seminole County has been Florida’s math and science superpower for years.
The first figure, which plots the Algebra 1 EOC middle school index (approximately the percentage of students who take and pass the Algebra 1 EOC in middle school) against FRL, features Orange and Seminole Counties as two of the state’s top five districts. Seminole County has a long heritage of math and science excellence that has been continually stoked by teachers and leadership at the school and district levels. Orange County’s remarkable performance can be largely traced to the district’s Calculus Project, which recruits a diverse population of rising seventh graders into Algebra 1 classes and provides extensive support for those students.
The second figure shows the calculus enrollment rate for Spring 2017 plotted against FRL. The calculus enrollment rate is given by the number of students enrolled in calculus courses in a district divided by the number of 12th graders (with the quotient being multiplied by 100 to give a rate per 100 12th graders). The Spring 2017 course enrollment numbers were recently released by the FLDOE. It is important to note that this spring the FLDOE did not include dual enrollment in their numbers. Orange County is among the leaders in its socioeconomic (FRL) range. However, Seminole County’s calculus enrollment rate far exceeds that of almost any other district – the exception being Florida’s only truly affluent district, St. Johns County. Seminole County’s remarkable result is certainly helped along by a districtwide requirement that every high school student take a math course every year.
The physics enrollment rates, shown in the third figure, show that Seminole County’s commitment to science is as strong as its commitment to math. In contrast, Orange County is only average in physics and trails even some districts in its own FRL range. The one district that has a higher physics enrollment rate than Seminole is Brevard County, home of the Kennedy Space Center. In Brevard as in Seminole, a culture of scientific excellence plays an important role in the decisions that parents and school personnel make.
The chemistry enrollment rates shown in the final figure reinforce the conclusion that Seminole’s commitment to science is as strong as it is to math. The three districts with higher chemistry enrollment rates than Seminole – Hardee, Madison and Sumter – are all rural counties whose physics enrollment rates are far below the state average. The medium- or large-sized districts that are closest to Seminole in chemistry enrollment rate are Brevard (again showing a commitment to science) and Dade – another urban megadistrict. It’s worth noting that Dade’s physics enrollment rate is approximately equal to the statewide rate.