Message to the Downtown Panama City Rotary Club at today’s meeting: Considerable progress in Bay County high schools, more work to do

A few of the slides from my talk to the Downtown Panama City Rotary Club today can be found below.  At the very bottom is a picture of the attendees learning some atomic physics – I was using plasma discharge lamps with hydrogen and neon, and of course those glasses are diffraction gratings.

A few additional notes:

When I was asked by the Club President how I ended up spending so much effort in a place 100 miles from home, I said three words that everybody in the room instantly understood – “Ginger summoned me”.

And yes, the fried chicken at the St. Andrew’s Yacht Club where the club’s lunch meetings are held is really that good.







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Florida trails Alabama, Georgia in average teacher salary, according to NCES

Average teacher salaries are from the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES).  The spreadsheet is here:


The link is here.



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From the Center for American Progress: “What Do People Know About Excellent Teaching and Learning?”

This week, the Center for American Progress posted a piece by Ulrich Boser that examined whether Americans in general and parents in particular know what effective teaching practices look like.  In general, the answer is no.  And that has important ramifications for efforts to improve teaching and learning.  Below I have reproduced several excerpts from Boser’s piece.  But of course you should read the original.

It’s a set of questions that nags just about every parent with school-age kids: Does their child’s teacher employ good instructional practices? What are educators doing to help their kid learn? Is the school using effective programs and approaches?

There’s a problem, though, because it turns out that most people do not have a robust sense of what effective teaching looks like. Indeed, most Americans believe various myths about the nature of teaching and learning, and large swaths of the public support instructional practices that are ineffective or even hurtful to learning.

False beliefs about teaching and learning are a problem that goes far beyond the classroom. Myths about learning also prevent thoughtful efforts at school reform. For instance, if large segments of Americans believe in passive forms of learning, then they won’t support initiatives to make learning more active and engaged….

The public underestimates the amount of knowledge and practice that it takes to become an accomplished teacher. More than 40 percent of respondents believed that teachers don’t need to know a subject area such as math or science if they have good instructional skills. In other words, much of the public believes that a great middle school math teacher can easily become a great history teacher—that a “great teacher can teach any subject.”….

Most people have a hard time recognizing richer, more active forms of teaching and learning. Within the learning sciences community, there’s now a clear consensus that more active forms of learning promote richer understanding. Researchers from across the field argue that more engaged forms of education—such as quizzing, explaining, or teaching others—produce much better student outcomes and a deeper grasp of material. As psychologists Richard Mayer and Logan Fiorella argue, learning is “generative.”

The evidence on this point is so overwhelming that some researchers, such as Scott Freeman at the University of Washington, refuse to do any more studies comparing active forms of learning against less active forms of learning. If you’re an educator and “you refuse do active learning, it raises an ethical question,” Freeman says. “It’s like a doctor giving you a less effective drug. You’d think it’s an issue of malpractice.”

But in the present research, the public appeared skeptical of this approach to learning. In fact, the public showed a lot of support for more passive approaches to learning. For instance, almost 90 percent of respondents believed that “[r]ereading is a highly effective approach to learning,” though research suggests that the approach is not all that effective. Many also believed that highlighting is a successful approach, but again, studies show that the strategy is not that effective.


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Teacher salaries in Georgia and Florida: A comparison of district averages

The district average teacher salaries in Florida shown in the plot below are available on the Florida Department of Education web site.  Those in Georgia are available at the Atlanta Journal-Consitution web site.


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STEM progress in Florida high schools depends on teacher-leaders

I’ve spent this week visiting with some of Florida’s high school science and math teacher-leaders and learning more about what they are doing to position their students for the most robust opportunities in our new economy.

At Seminole County’s Lake Mary High School, where more than half of the graduates have taken a physics course, Presidential Awardee Luther Davis and this year’s Lake Mary Teacher of the Year Steve DeSanto are working in a hundred different ways to keep their physics enrollments up so that their students arrive at college ready to choose any career path.  I visited with Luther and Steve on Monday afternoon.  Last fall, Orlando Sentinel columnist Beth Kassab featured the way that Luther and Steve bring physics to the school’s Friday night football games.

At Orlando Science School, where I spent Tuesday, students achieved a 100% passing rate on the AP Calculus AB and AP Statistics exams last May.  You can’t do that without great math teaching.  And how does OSS get their students psyched for math?  Take a look at this video of their Pi Day celebration.

On Wednesday morning, I drove the 400 miles from Orlando to Bay County to visit with Nancy Browne, Rachel Morris and Sean O’Donnell, the three physics teachers with whom I have spent a great deal of time during the last year.  Nancy is teaching more than 100 physics students at Bay High School this year, and Sean has been coming over to Bay from his home base at Mosley High School to help once a month.  Rachel, a former Rutherford High School Teacher of the Year, is getting ready to provide her present AP Physics 1 students with an opportunity to move on to a second physics course next year.


Rutherford’s Rachel Morris is on the far left and Lake Mary’s Luther Davis is next to her in the picture from the physics teacher panel discussion hosted by the FSU Physics Department in the fall of 2015.  The others in the picture are (from left to right) the author of this blog, UCF Physics Teacher-in-Residence Adam LaMee and Godby High School physics teacher Zondra Clayton.

And this morning, I met with two counselor-leaders at Mosley High School, Laura Evans and Sharon Hofer.  They have been the prime movers in the highly successful parent outreach effort at Mosley, and they are planning for an expansion of that effort.  Counselors must lead, too.

During every visit, my hosts talked about how important it is to bring more strong young people into the math and science teaching profession, and how challenging that task is.  With its established reputation, Lake Mary has less trouble attracting strong applicants for staff openings than the other schools.  But Orlando Science School will be visiting FSU’s teacher career fair later this spring in an effort to recruit more great teachers.  And Bay County is offering $5,000 signing bonuses for teachers in several subject areas, including high school level science and math.

Bay County school district officials will also be visiting studio physics classes at FSU next month to visit with students and explore the teaching career possibilities.  It is a Hail Mary, but given the importance and difficulty of attracting strong young people to teaching, it’s worth a try.


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Tallahassee Democrat op-ed: Florida must find a way to rebuild bridges with its teachers

The op-ed in the Democrat is here.

A reader should not assume that I think the way we paid teachers in the past was fine.  For example, giving teachers raises for earning graduate degrees in education is not supported by research.

But state policy-makers should not assume that teachers are the enemy.  The state’s relationship with teachers should be rebuilt – that should be the policy priority.

I don’t believe the present proposals for adjusting Best and Brightest will accomplish that.

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Seminole County, you’re still the one – leading Florida in STEM career readiness

Seminole County Public Schools still lead Florida in STEM career readiness, according to an index compiled from Fall 2016 course enrollment figures for chemistry, physics, precalculus and calculus.  The enrollment figures were supplied by the Florida Department of Education.

Chemistry, physics, precalculus and calculus are the high school courses listed by the American Society for Engineering Education as important in preparing for college majors in engineering.  These courses are also important preparation for computer science and many health professions.

The “STEM Career Prep Index” is the sum of course enrollments rates – defined to be the number of course enrollments in a district (in grades 9-12) divided by the number of 12th graders in the district – in these four subjects.

Seminole County once again edged out Brevard County for the highest STEM Career Prep Index.  Seminole’s winning edge was its calculus enrollment rate of 27.4, which is about 50% higher than that in Brevard County and more than double the statewide rate.  Seminole’s high calculus enrollment rate is likely driven by the district policy of requiring every high school student to take a math course every year.  It is common in other districts for students who take Algebra 1 in middle school to stop taking math after 11th grade or even 10th grade, and therefore to pass on the opportunity to take a calculus course in high school.

Brevard led the state in physics enrollment rate, far ahead of second place Seminole County, which in turn was far ahead of the third-place district, rural Franklin County.

The Fall 2016 enrollment numbers used here do not include dual enrollment courses, but do include AP, IB and AICE courses.






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