Arizona Crisis in Physics Education:
the Arizona Business Community Can Help
a time when students are being encouraged to pursue a STEM career path, high
school physics enrollment in Arizona is only half of the national average. This
document explains why, without physics, an Arizona studentŐs success in
post-high school STEM education is in jeopardy – and how Arizona
businesses can improve the situation.
Why should more students take
high school physics?
Physics, more than any
other subject in high school, teaches quantitative and analytical reasoning
skills. Math is an important tool, but physics makes math "make senseÓ.
Physics is a gateway
course for post-secondary study in science, medicine, and engineering, as well
as an essential component in the formation of studentsŐ scientific literacy. (Position
Statement of the National Alliance of Black School Educators - 2012)
Most leakage from the
STEM career "pipeline" occurs in high school and in the transition
from high school to college, not in college. Most students who do
not /cannot take high school physics never enter the STEM pipeline.
Students who take high
school physics are twice as likely to be ready for any college science – and
for workforce training programs -- according to ACT research. Thus ACT
recommends a high school core curriculum that includes physics. (ACT 2006, page 3. 45%
are ready vs ~20%. http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED493179.pdf
; see also ACT 2013, page 8 at http://www.act.org/content/dam/act/unsecured/documents/Policy-Platforms-k-12-online.pdf )
Nationally the numbers
of high school students taking physics has grown to 40%. Unfortunately Arizona
has moved in the opposite direction.
Physics enrollment is below 20% and not even offered in some large high
schools because of a lack of qualified staff. High salaries offered by industry
have created an environment in which universities graduate few physics majors
who desire to teach.
Why arenŐt more Arizona
students taking physics?
Monica Plisch, Associate
Director of Education and Diversity at the American Physical Society, said, "Physics is often seen as an elite
discipline that requires a lot of math and is only for college-bound students.
This view is not only outdated, it risks underestimating students' abilities
and cutting off their future opportunities in STEMÓ.
Online guidance programs for high school students, like the
MCCCD Career Guide (https://www.maricopa.edu/workforce/industry-sectors/mcccd-career-guide) are no help; they fail
to recommend high school physics even for careers that clearly require physics;
e.g., Health Sciences, Engineering & Technology, Information Technology.
Of all school subjects,
physics has the most severe teacher shortage, followed by math and chemistry. Surpluses of biology teachers exist.
The shortage of physics teachers leaves many U.S. students
unprepared for college study in STEM disciplines. America lags far behind most
of our global competitors in physics education. Large
STEM-trained populations in China and India support burgeoning industrial
development in those countries.
better understand the crisis at school level, Earl Barrett and Larry Dukerich,
with support of a grant from The Boeing Company in Mesa and assistance of the
Arizona Department of Education, surveyed high school counselors in January
2017. Recognizing that they also needed data on studentsŐ views, they gave a
similar instrument in February to chemistry students in 8 Arizona school
districts. They received responses from 75 counselors and nearly 900 students.
of Survey Results
1. Only 45% of chemistry students
surveyed said they have a good idea of what they would study in physics.
Nearly 65% of counselors think that students DO NOT have a good grasp of
what physics is about.
2. While 60% of students feel that
they have the math skills needed to be successful in physics, almost 70% of
counselors disagree with that view.
3. About 45% of students arenŐt sure
that physics would help them succeed in college or technical school. 57% of
counselors think that students are not aware of benefits of physics.
4. Nearly 65% of students fear that a
poor grade in physics will hurt their chances of being accepted by college.
56% of counselors agree.
5. More than 40% of students think
that physics is only for people intending to become engineers. Over half of the
counselors think this is what students believe.
6. It is
distressing that nearly 60% of counselors admit that they have no significant
contact with the physics teacher(s) at their school.
majority of counselors believe, erroneously, that physics requires a student to
have exceptional math skills and a desire to be an engineer. Without a belief
that physics is important for anyone interested in a STEM career, they often
steer students to other science courses.
can Arizona businesses address this crisis?
do two things to make it likely that your company can hire adequately prepared
employees in the future:
companies like Boeing has done in the past, your company can earmark monies to
provide tuition support for teachers who are trying to become certified to
á Send a
clear message to our legislators and governor that you expect them to provide
adequate support to schools and teachers, to ensure that students who wish to
pursue a STEM career will have opportunity to take a quality high school
physics course. They need to know that your company feels physics is vital for
ASU is the birthplace of a world-renowned program in the
reformed practice of teaching physics – Modeling Instruction. Each summer
it offers workshops and content courses that empower teachers to re-train and
earn certification as physics instructors. The recently signed Arizona Senate
Bill 1038 helps to defray the cost of such coursework, with $2000 grants to
teachers. This is only enough to pay for one 3-credit graduate course. This is
simply insufficient incentive for teachers, whose salaries are typically under
$40,000 and who are paying off student debt. With additional funding from
businesses, it is possible to re-train a teacher for physics in as little as
two summers and a school year of evening classes. Information:
can be done at school level to address this crisis?
á Most of
our schools could add two or more sections of physics with their present
districts have the right to declare that physics has enough mathematics to meet
the math requirement for graduation.
We believe students would be eager to take a class where math is applied
in real world contexts, as their 4th required math class.
survey revealed that counselors overwhelmingly agree they would support physics
for the average student if the class was designed to improve studentsŐ math
skills and was built around practical applications and a project-based design.
need to recognize that a vibrant physics program better prepares most students
for STEM careers than do AP science courses. HVAC techs and plumbers use
physics daily. Physics should be taken by most students, whereas only a few
benefit from AP sciences. The AP model does not work for most students.
would be glad to provide our surveys. If you want to examine them closely, we
can share counselor comments and survey results by question. We would be pleased to meet with you to
answer your questions about implementing a plan to increase physics enrollment
in your school.
Larry Dukerich received his B.S. in Chemistry from
Michigan State University and his Master of Natural Science degree from Arizona
State University. He taught high school chemistry and physics, including
regular, honors and AP courses, in Michigan and Arizona for 34 years. He was a
Woodrow Wilson Dreyfus Fellow in Chemistry in 1986 and a Presidential Awardee
for Excellence in Science Teaching in 2000. Since 1995, he has conducted numerous summer workshops for
physics and chemistry teachers as part of the Modeling Instruction Program at
ASU, and later in Pennsylvania, N Carolina, Tennessee, New York City, Missouri,
California and Colorado. He has made presentations about and conducted
workshops on Modeling Instruction at NSTA, ChemEd and BCCE conferences. He is a lead contributor to the
curricular materials used in Modeling Instruction in chemistry.
Earl Barrett received his B.S. in Science from Seton
Hall University and his MST from Antioch College. He taught high school earth
science, biology, chemistry and physics, including regular, honors, dual
enrollment and AP courses, in New Jersey and Arizona for 41 years. He has participated in National Science
Foundation graduate study institutes in mathematics, earth science, and physics
at Rutgers University, Newark College of Engineering, NC State, UC Berkeley,
ASU, Florida State, Colorado State, Dartmouth College, Dickinson College and
Lewis and Clark College. He served two years as the president of the Phoenix
Union High School District classroom teachers association and treasurer of the
Arizona Science Teachers Association. He was a nominee for Teacher of the Year
in 1987, received a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Teaching in
1993, and was a recipient of the Tandy Technology Outstanding Teacher Award as
a Top Fifty Physics teacher in 1990.
Since retiring he has given local presentations concerning the crisis in
physics education and had a related paper published in The Physics Teacher. https://www.aapt.org/Resources/upload/PTE000399_Increasing-Physics-Enrollment.pdf
Together they taught physics and chemistry at Dobson
High School in Mesa, AZ for 20 years.