Terra Sigillata

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Brandon Haught is Director of Florida Citizens for Science Communications and has been a tireless advocate for science education across this large and educationally diverse state. His blog, an activity of the larger Florida Citizens for Science organization, carries this mission:

This blog is used to keep track of the good, bad and ugly science news in our state and beyond. We tend to focus on educational issues. When a science class makes the news for doing something interesting or positive, I try to make sure a post goes up here about it. When a Florida scientist gets out into the community to promote education, I try to highlight it. Yes, we will certainly post all about the antics of those trying to promote an anti-science viewpoint, but we are just as much about praising the good things that happen in our state.

As I’ve said before, the only way to get scientists to value getting out of the lab and into the community is for us to value those who do.

Brandon tweeted this morning (you can follow him @flascience) about this Gainesville Sun article on a math and science education summit held yesterday at the University of Florida College of Education.

The summit brought university professors together with K-12 teachers and administrators to discuss improving math and science instruction. As part of that effort, the UF College of Education announced it was using a $1.6 million grant from the Helios Education Foundation to pay for math and science teachers in high-needs Pinellas County schools to get master’s degrees and other training.

College Dean Catherine Emihovich said there is “no more pressing problem” in schools than low achievement in math and science.

The article cites Matt Larson, a Nebraska public schools administrator, raising concerns that we generally put the most-experienced teachers in high-performing science classes and less-experienced in the remedial classes. The fact that we have it backwards:

National testing shows that math and science achievement has been improving in the U.S, but disparities remain between white and minority students.

The difference has been called the “achievement gap,” but Larson said it should be called the “instruction gap” to reflect that teaching and curriculum are largely to blame.

He pointed to studies showing that students who take the highest levels of math classes are most likely to attend college.

At the same time, Larson said, about 88 percent of students initially sent to low-level classes are still on that level when they drop out or graduate.

“We give different students different opportunities, and I don’t know why we’re surprised that as a result we get different outcomes,” he said.

Florida has been a state with a traditionally strong anti-evolution movement. FCS has publicized several cases over the last few years of efforts to water down science education (example).

One solution is the placement of better prepared teachers with students who need it. However, it might also be valuable for the Helios grant to also provide educational opportunities for school board members as well.

More information on the UF College of Education summit, “Addressing the Crisis of Mathematics and Science Achievement in Florida and the Nation,” can be found here.