Will Florida’s charter schools help improve the preparation of the state’s high school students for college STEM majors?

Florida is doing a lousy job preparing high school students for college majors in STEM fields.

A national study of high school math and science course-taking just released by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) suggests that charter schools do not make such a situation better, and in fact might make it worse.

The figure from the GAO report displayed below shows that charter schools are less likely than traditional district schools to offer courses in calculus and physics that are necessary for properly preparing students for college majors in fields like engineering and physics that account for 17 of the top 25 majors when ranked by salary.  The disparity between charters and traditional district high schools occurs regardless of the socioeconomic status of the students in the schools.

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Of course, in Florida the charters are not the biggest problem when it comes to preparing high school students for STEM majors. Florida public high school students take physics at about half the national rate, and the state’s rate is declining rapidly. The state’s students are only average at taking and passing Advanced Placement exams in math and science subjects despite the success in other subjects of the state’s system of financial incentives for passing AP exam scores.

But Florida’s charter schools and their advocates have a special opportunity to address the high school math and science problem. Yet in their public statements, Florida’s charter school advocates tend to avoid discussing upper level high school math and science courses, except to occasionally note the success of STEM specialty charter schools like Orlando Science School.

Here is a challenge for charter school advocates: Whenever you write more than 200 words intended for public consumption or talk for more than 5 minutes in public, acknowledge that Florida’s charter sector should do a better job preparing its students for college STEM majors. To pass my test, you don’t even have to offer a solution – just acknowledge that Florida’s charter schools should be doing better. And if you want extra credit, say how your own charter school or chain of charter schools is going to improve in this regard.

When it comes to opening the doors of opportunity for all of Florida’s students, the state’s charter sector should be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

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