Is Florida a strong Advanced Placement state? Sure. A strong AP STEM state? Nope.

A February 22, 2017 press release from the Florida Department of Education titled “Florida Continues to Lead the Nation in Advanced Placement Exams and Narrow the Achievement Gap” crows:

According to the Advanced Placement (AP) Data Report issued today by the College Board, Florida ranks first in participation in the AP exams during high school and third in the nation for improvement over the last decade.

Governor Rick Scott said, “These results are proof that the investments we are making in education are preparing students to begin college and enter the workforce prepared to succeed. With the ‘Fighting for Florida’s Future’ education budget, we once again increase funding at all levels to ensure Florida remains the best state in the world to live, work and receive an education.”

But are Florida’s students excelling in the AP science and math courses that will best prepare them for college STEM majors that lead to the economically most robust career paths?

Nope.

The plot below tells the story.  It compares Florida to the nation at large and the state that leads the nation, Massachusetts, in five categories of AP courses.  The metric is the number of exams that students passed during the May 2017 exam period divided by the number of thousands of high school students.

The numbers of students passing the exams come from the recently released state-by-state reports from the College Board.  The number of high school students in Florida comes from the state’s Department of Education.  The national number of high school students is the 2017 projection from this National Center for Education Statistics page.  The Massachusetts high school population comes from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Florida is a leader in world languages, social sciences and the arts.  The state is also doing OK in English.

But in math and science?  Florida is below the national rate, and far, far behind Massachusetts.

In other words, Florida is doing fine in the “A” in “STEAM”.  The rest of it?  Not so much.

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2017 Florida AP results: AP Physics 1 exam takers continue to decline, while AP Biology continues steady rise

The number of Florida students taking the AP Physics 1 exam this past May continued last year’s decline by dropping 5% from 2016, giving a total 10% decline since the exam debuted in May of 2015, according to state AP exam results just released by the College Board.

The passing rate for Florida students on the AP Physics 1 exam edged up to 37% from 35% in 2016 so that the number of Florida students passing remained nearly constant from 2016.

Florida’s AP Physics 1 decline reflects a broader decline in the state’s high school physics enrollments and does not reflect a national decline.  Nationwide, the number of students taking the AP Physics 1 exam remained nearly constant, while the passing rate edged up to 41%.

Meanwhile, AP Biology continued its strong growth in Florida.  The number of exam takers in the state rose by 4% this year, while the number passing the exam rose by a strong 11%.  Since 2012, the number of Florida students taking the exam has risen by 40%, while the number passing has increased 113%.

The AP Calculus AB and BC exams continued their steady growth in Florida, while AP Computer Science A declined sharply – probably due to the new AP Computer Science Principles course that debuted last year.  More than twice as many Florida students took the AP Computer Science Principles exam (4,829) as took the more challenging AP Computer Science A test (2,404).  This was in contrast to the situation at the national level, where more students took AP Computer Science A than AP Computer Science Principles.

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Florida’s shortage of new high school math teachers: Update 10/30/17

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Once each week, I will update progress (or lack thereof) in addressing Florida’s decline in the number of new teachers certified to teach all high school math courses.  That certification is called “Math 6-12”.

As you can see above, the number of first-time examinees passing the certification exam has declined sharply since 2013.

Today’s update will be a little longer than future ones because I will outline the present situation.

What Republican legislators are doing:  Florida’s Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program was enacted by the 2015 Legislature in part as a recruiting tool.  So far, the program has not reversed the decline in the supply of new Math 6-12 teachers, although it could be argued that it’s still too early to know whether it will have an effect.  The program uses SAT/ACT scores earned by the teacher herself (or himself) for eligibility, and that has sparked considerable controversy.  While the 2015 and 2016 Legislatures authorized the program through budget language, the 2017 Legislature inserted the program into statute via HB 7069, its omnibus education bill.

What Democratic legislators are proposing:  Democratic Senator Kevin Rader has filed SB 586 that would set a statewide minimum salary for all instructional personnel of $50,000.  That would do a great deal to narrow the salary gap between what new bachelor’s degree grads in math can make as a teacher or in the private sector.  However, since it treats all teachers equally – regardless of subject area – it is a non-starter for the Republican-controlled legislature.

What the State Board of Education is proposing:  The SBOE is pushing a legislative initiative to train and recruit more teachers in computer coding education.  They are ignoring the decline in the supply of new high school math teachers.  The SBOE also makes the common error of using the term “computer science” to label their initiative.  What they are doing has nothing to do with computer science – which requires an undergraduate to have a strong background in math and science – and instead seems intended to produce a large number of technician-level computer programmers (which is not a bad thing).

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STEM and life advice for parents of middle school students – a brochure developed by staff at the Panama City campus of FSU

Seven thousand copies of a brochure giving advice to middle school parents about preparing their students for STEM and life will be distributed to parents of Bay District middle school students in the coming weeks.

The brochure was developed by a team at the Panama City Campus of FSU led by FSU Foundation STEM Liaison, Bay District School Board Chair and former English teacher Ginger Littleton.

A brochure for high school parents is under development and should be available in the next few months.

The power of providing STEM advice to parents of secondary-level students was demonstrated by the Wisconsin Study of Families and Work.  That study showed that communicating with parents of high school students about the importance of upper level high school math and science courses significantly increases the rate at which students take those courses and also results in a larger percentage of those students choosing careers in STEM fields.

The pdf of the full brochure is here:

Why STEM Advice to MS Parents

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Cover page of the brochure for middle school parents being distributed in Bay County in the coming weeks

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An extraordinary double win: FSU’s Susan Blessing adds the Southeastern Section APS Pegram Award to her APS Fellowship

FSU Physics Professor Susan Blessing has been awarded the 2017 George B. Pegram Award by the Southeastern Section of the American Physical Society (APS).  The Pegram Award was established in 1971 to honor excellence in physics education in the southeastern region.

The Pegram was announced only two weeks after Blessing was notified that she had been elected to Fellowship in the APS.

The extraordinary double win comes a year after FSU’s undergraduate program in physics, which Blessing leads, was cited as one of five national models by a task force organized jointly by the APS and the American Association of Physics Teachers.

The Pegram will be formally awarded at the annual meeting of the Southeastern Section, which will be held November 16-18 at Georgia College.

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Do students learn any physics from doing labs? Often the answer is “no”.

Nobel Laureate in Physics and Science Education Crusader Carl Wieman recently weighed in on the value of laboratories in introductory-level lecture college physics courses on the discussion group of the American Physical Society’s Topical Group on Physics Education Research.  Our department chair, Horst Wahl, broadcast Wieman’s comments to the entire Physics Department faculty and it sparked an, uh, interesting discussion.  Here I share Wieman’s note and at the bottom attach the two papers that Wieman mentions in his note.  Enjoy.

In terms of research on learning from labs, there is very little research, but Natasha Holmes and I have been studying this recently. We did not look at studio format, but rather labs that are coordinated with weekly course schedule and done in different rooms and have the goal of supporting the learning of the course content. The attached PR-PER paper shows our results, which is that across 9 courses at 3 very different institutions, the labs consistently provide no measurable learning, with very small uncertainties.

Our attached paper on cognitive activities in undergrad research and the comparison to activities in intro labs explains why this result is not surprising. I also did a Physics Teacher article on this general issue of cognitive tasks involved in intro labs and how and why they are so different from what is intended. You can look up, was a couple of year or so.

It is very difficult to extract the value of the lab component to studio physics, because it is so completely integrated with all other aspects of the teaching. That would likely make the labs more beneficial. However, the data we got on the value of labs as used in somewhat different contexts, suggests one should exercise some caution in assuming they are of great value.

It would be a good research project to do a controlled experiment, comparing standard studio methods with an intervention where, in place of the labs students were given a simulation of the experiment, or the representative data from an experiment that was described to them, and measure the respective learning outcomes in the two treatments.

Carl Wieman

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FL SBOE’s legislative initiative would help more students enter associate degree-level programming careers, but ignores the issue of access to bachelor’s-level technological leadership careers

Last week, Florida’s State Board of Education expressed its support for a legislative initiative to train more K-12 teachers in computer coding education.  If enacted, such an initiative would provide a broad population of students access to programming careers at the associate’s degree level.

But the initiative ignores the rapid decline in the supply of new teachers qualified to teach upper level math and science classes like precalculus, calculus and physics.  This decline threatens to limit access for Florida students to bachelor’s-level careers like engineering and computer science that provide leadership for the nation’s technological economy.

There is an important point of language here.  When the State Board of Education says “computer science”, they don’t mean computer science the way that my colleagues in the FSU Department of Computer Science mean the term.  Even students who take the most serious so-called computer science course in Florida’s high school program – AP Computer Science A – are learning computer programming and not “computer science”.  In fact, FSU does not award students who pass the AP Computer Science A examination credit for a programming course.  Instead, they receive credit for satisfying the university’s “computer skills competency” requirement.

Nevertheless, preparing more students to earn associate-level degrees in computer programming and technology makes a lot of sense.  Students earning these degrees from Florida College System institutions earn more than $40,000 per year in their first jobs.

The math requirements for these associate degrees are low-level.  The course “Mathematics I for Liberal Arts” (MGF 1106 for those keeping score) satisfies the math requirement to earn an Associate of Science degree in Computer Programming and Web Development at Tallahassee Community College.  The science requirement can be satisfied with a 1000-level course intended for non-science majors

In contrast, the math requirements for a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science at FSU include two semesters of calculus, two semesters of discrete mathematics and an upper level statistics course.  Most of these students take two semesters of calculus-based physics to satisfy their science requirements, although they have the option of taking two semesters of life science-major biology classes and a semester of science major chemistry instead.

The associate degree signifies a technician.

The bachelor’s degree is intended for innovators.

When it comes to preparing high school students for associates’ degrees in computer fields, Florida’s State Board of Education is on it.

And as for preparing high school students for leadership careers in fields like engineering and computer science?  Somebody else will have to attend to that.

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