Putting Education Reform To The Test

Paul Cottle

  • Email: pcottle@fsu.edu

Algebra Isn’t Enough: Make Precalculus A Bright Futures Requirement

Florida State University physics professor Paul Cottle.

Florida State University

Florida State University physics professor Paul Cottle.

While Florida’s Bright Futures scholarships no longer pay the entire tuition bill at the state’s public universities as they once did, they are still a valuable source of financial support for thousands of students.

Recent increases in the minimum scores on SAT and ACT college entrance exams required for Bright Futures eligibility have sparked some discussion and an investigation – now closed – by the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education.

But aside from the test score requirements, the only high school courses required for Bright Futures eligibility are those required for high school graduation.  In math, that means that only Algebra 1 and Geometry are presently required to earn a Bright Futures scholarship.

The conventional wisdom among education policy-makers and scholars has been that Algebra 2 is the high school math course that makes a student “college-ready,” and by that standard the math course requirement for Bright Futures falls short.

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Opinion: Florida Universities Should Invest In More Hands-On Science Lessons

An example of a hands-on science classroom. Paul Cottle says students are more engaged than with a traditional lecture.

Courtesy of Paul Cottle.

An example of a hands-on science classroom. Paul Cottle says students are more engaged than with a traditional lecture.

As a physics professor at one of Florida’s public universities, I am always looking for ways to encourage students and their parents to take on the challenge of majoring in science or engineering in college.

A few weeks ago, I visited with parents of middle and high school students who attend a science-oriented school near downtown Orlando.  The parents wanted to know how to keep their kids on track for science and engineering careers.  I told them that their kids should keep taking math and science courses – including calculus and physics – all the way through high school.

And then I shared what I think are the two most important things for future scientists and engineers (and their parents) to look for in a college.  One is classroom instruction that actively engages students and is based on studies on how students learn best.  The second is the opportunity for students to get involved in cutting-edge scientific research programs early in their undergraduate years.

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Opinion: For Better Teachers, Larger Classes And Higher Salaries

Sarasota County middle school math teacher Brenda Fuoco, in 2013.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Sarasota County middle school math teacher Brenda Fuoco, in 2013.

Maybe a charter school in New York City has discovered “The Answer” to Florida’s K-12 education challenges?

If so, the school has done so by setting aside Florida’s focus on keeping class sizes small and by instead adopting a strategy that our state has so far ignored – recruiting star teachers with high salaries and an attractive working environment.  In particular, the school’s spectacular results in math achievement should provide the standard by which Florida’s efforts to prepare students for careers in STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — fields are judged.

The New York City charter, which teaches grades 5-9, is called The Equity Project (TEP).  It pays its teachers a $125,000 salary – with bonuses based on student achievement.  The salary seems extravagant in part because the cost of living in New York City is so high.  An equivalent salary in Tampa would be $71,000, according to Bankrate.com – still considerably higher than the average Florida teacher salary of about $46,000.

In addition to the high salary, the TEP teachers have time to plan and collaborate, and a six-week professional development program is built into each summer.  The teachers take a large role in school-wide decision-making.

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