One snapshot of physics in urban schools
Posted by Melissa on October 16, 2009
While reading the October issue of the American Journal of Physics, I was once again reminded of how skewed my perception of the state of physics education can be. While I know that many US high school students never take physics, that many high school students who do take physics are taught by “cross-over” teachers whose disciplinary training is not in physics, and that rural and urban school districts often lack the resources to provide quality high school science curriculum, I still found myself shocked by the numbers reported by Angela Kelly and Keith Sheppard in their AJP article on high school physics availability in the New York City public schools. According to the article, nearly 55% of the New York City public high schools did not offer a single physics course during the 2004-2005 academic year. At first, I thought maybe the authors were considering only college-prep physics, but no, fifty-five percent of the city high schools offered NO physics courses, not even a conceptual physics course requiring little mathematical proficiency! Not surprisingly, the burrough with the least physics availability (the Bronx) had the highest number of under-represented minorities and the poorest students. Citywide, only 20% of New York City public high school graduates have studied physics for at least one year. The numbers are a sobering reminder that the challenges of preparing a diverse cross-section of students for success in STEM disciplines in college are intimately tied to the math and science course availability and quality before students enter college.