School choice and competition: In Bay County’s Lynn Haven, Mosley High School beats the charter competition hands down.

Like it or not, competition between traditional district schools and charter schools is a feature of education life in many Florida communities.

Bay County’s City of Lynn Haven is one of those communities.  The city’s traditional district high school, Mosley High School, is in a duel with North Bay Haven Career Academy, located five miles to the northeast.  North Bay Haven opened its school in 2010 and graduated its first class in 2014.

But when it comes to preparing students for college, there is no competition:  Mosley is a better choice because it prepares its college-bound students to choose any major once they arrive at college.

In contrast, North Bay Haven doesn’t even properly prepare students in its engineering, health science and marine science academies for college majors in those fields.

On Tuesday evening, I met with a group of rising 9th graders (and their parents) who will be attending Mosley High School and entering the school’s MAPPS (Mosley AP Program for Success) program to talk about preparing for college.  Nearly all of these students attended one of the Bay Haven system’s middle schools.  Some chose to attend Mosley instead of North Bay Haven.  Others would have preferred to attend North Bay Haven but “lost” in the lottery that determines which students will attend the charter high school – there are many more 8th graders in the Bay Haven middle schools than there are spots for 9th graders in the North Bay Haven high school.

The irony is that the students I saw on Tuesday evening who “lost” the Bay Haven lottery actually won for their academic futures.

The members of the Mosley community who spoke before me on Tuesday evening are totally dialed into the goal of preparing every college-bound student to choose any major once they arrive in college.  That included not just the Mosley counselors and administrators who spoke, but even the President of the MAPPS parent advisory council, Joanna Taylor.

What does preparing to choose any major mean?   In science and math, it means taking high school courses in chemistry, physics, precalculus and – if possible – calculus.

The American Society for Engineering Education says that proper preparation for a college major in engineering includes all of those courses.

Undergraduate preparation for professional schools in medicine, dentistry and physical therapy includes lots of chemistry and two semesters of physics, as well as “college-level” math.

Requirements for a bachelor of science degree in computer science generally include lots of mathematics and two semesters of physics.

Even a student who wants to earn a bachelor’s degree in biology – including marine science – is required to take calculus, physics and lots of chemistry as an undergraduate.

How is Mosley doing in preparing its students for these majors?  The school’s chemistry enrollment has tripled in the last two years, and it is now one of Northwest Florida’s leaders in chemistry enrollment rate.  Its physics enrollment has increased by a factor of ten in the last two years.  Calculus enrollments are up as well.

And the competition at North Bay Haven?  According to the school’s curriculum guide, physics isn’t even offered.  So the students in the school’s engineering academy aren’t being prepared properly for college majors in engineering.  And the same can be said for students in the school’s health and marine science academies.

In fact, if a North Bay Haven graduate arrives at the University of Florida intending to major in engineering, the student will be told that she or he has not met the high school physics prerequisite for the first introductory physics course required for engineering majors.  As the excerpt from syllabus for that course at UF shown below demonstrates, the student will be directed to take a “liberal studies” physics course first – and the student will lose a semester.

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North Bay Haven is not the only school to mislead its students with an engineering-without-physics program.  Last fall, the Superintendent of Schools in a large southwest Florida district stated during a public school board meeting that her district’s engineering academy students don’t have room in their schedules for physics and calculus.  But that is no excuse.  North Bay Haven is harming its students’ futures by its inattention to the challenges its students will face in college.

I need to make a clarification about my own point of view here.  I am not anti-charter school.  I’ve maintained a working relationship with a charter school in Orlando since 2012.  One of the state’s leading school choice advocates once called me a “school choice agnostic” because I really don’t care if a school is a traditional public school, a charter school or even a private school – all I care about is whether a school is preparing its students properly for college.  Mosley is doing an excellent job.  North Bay Haven is not.

There really is no competition here – Mosley wins hands down.

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