Hmm, Florida Science Education takes a step backward
From Bridge for Tomorrow:
Florida House GOP Proposal Would Leave High School Science Behind
Florida House Republican and Speaker hopeful Eric Fresen has filed a bill for next spring’s legislative session that is being touted as a way to raise standards for high school graduation. But in science, Fresen’s bill would leave Florida behind Georgia, Alabama and even Mississippi.
House Bill 61 would require three science courses for graduation, as the law presently does. In one respect, the bill’s provisions on science are an improvement over a bill on graduation standards that Representative Fresen filed last year. Last year’s bill would have allowed a student to graduate from high school without having taken any courses in the physical or Earth sciences, leaving them without any background with which to understand the pressing issues of energy and global climate change. This year’s bill would require students entering high school in 2013 or later to take at least one biology class and at least one class in chemistry or physics. Unfortunately, Earth science is not mentioned in Representative Fresen’s bill.
While HB 61 would set the bar for high school graduation in science at three courses, our neighboring states – Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi – are already requiring four courses in science for graduation. In a recent commentary published in the St. Petersburg Times education blog Gradebook, Republican Representative John Legg, Chairman of the K-12 Education Policy Committee in the Florida House, said that “Our long term economic recovery is dependent on our students’ educational success.” This assertion, which is beyond debate, certainly requires us to be able to compete with our neighbors in the area of science education.
Florida’s standing in science relative to its neighboring states was demonstrated in the recently released results for 2009 high school graduates from the ACT exam, which includes a separate science section (as recently highlighted by Leslie Postal in the Orlando Sentinel’s School Zone blog). While not all of Florida’s high school graduates took the exam, 62% of them did, earning an average score on the science section of the exam of 19.0 (of a possible 36). In Alabama, a larger fraction of the high school graduates took the exam (76%), but as a group they outperformed Florida with an average score of 20.1. In Mississippi, nearly all the high school graduates took the exam (93% vs. Florida’s 62%); nevertheless, that state’s students nearly kept up with Florida with an average score of 18.7. At 20.3, Georgia’s average was the highest in the region, but only 40% of their graduates took the exam. In short, Florida’s high school graduates are not competing well with graduates from our neighboring states in science.
This summer, a group of 90 science faculty from Florida’s colleges and universities drafted a white paper on high school graduation requirements in science. While the professors did not go so far as to propose that four science courses be required for graduation, the group did argue that four science courses should be required for a student to be eligible for a Bright Futures scholarship. Furthermore, the white paper specified that in order to graduate, every student should take at least one biology course, one physical science course (chemistry or physics) and one course in the Earth and space sciences.
Florida competes with Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi for high tech industries, and the scientific skill of our workforce as developed in the K-12 schools is a critical factor in these competitions. We cannot afford to fall further behind.