Arizona Crisis in Physics Education:
Arizona Businesses Can Help
2017 (updated August 2019)
Students are being encouraged to pursue a STEM career
path, but 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 )
Why arenŐt more Arizona
students taking physics?
Nationally the number 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.
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 This view is not only outdated, it risks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
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
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 1551 (June 2019) 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 $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: http://modeling.asu.edu
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 high school.
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.
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
taught physics and chemistry at Dobson High School in Mesa, AZ for 20 years.