jump to navigation

Issues of Equity in Physics Access and Enrollment August 6, 2015

Posted by PER Section Chair in : History, Policy and Education (HPE), Physics Education Research (PER) , add a comment

High school physics is a gateway course for post-secondary study in science, medicine, and engineering, as well as an essential component in the formation of students’ scientific literacy.  Yet, despite reports to the contrary, the availability of physics as a course for high school students is not equitably distributed throughout the United States.

While some schools provide physics for all who wish to take it, a more common scenario is limited availability. This is particularly true in urban districts, where physics is not universally available in secondary school.  The existence of policies that restrict science opportunities for secondary students results in diminished outcomes in terms of scientific proficiency.

Recently researchers at Columbia University examined the 316 secondary schools in the New York City Public School system to identify factors related to availability of physics courses.  New York City’s (population 8.1 million) public schools system  is the largest school district in the United States, with approximately 300,000 secondary school students (15.1% White, 33.6% Black, 38.2% Hispanic, 13.0% Asian).

Overall Enrollment

Overall, physics enrollment in the 298 responding surveyed schools totals 14,935 (5.2%) out of 286,862 students. This corresponds to approximately 21% of students graduating having studied physics, which is lower than the state and national average of 31% for public schools. Analysis of the availability of physics in schools shows that access to physics is not equitably distributed – a remarkable 55% (164 of 298) of the surveyed New York City high schools simply do not offer physics as a subject. This translates to approximately 23% of the city student population not having access to any physics course in high school.

Where is Physics Available?

School size strongly influences whether physics is available. The vast majority of large high schools offer physics as a course, while fewer than half of mid-sized schools and only a quarter of the small schools do. Eliminating schools that only have grades 9 or 10 (and thus may offer physics in future years), still only 39% of small schools offer physics. Although small schools present a promising option in many respects, the question of access to advanced science courses needs to be addressed. Student graduation rates are likely to increase, but the city may actually graduate fewer physics students than they do today.

New York State leads the nation in Advanced Placement participation, with 23% of its high school graduates earning a passing score on at least one exam before graduation (the national average is 14%). Despite this prominence, AP Physics is a rarity in New York City’s public high schools, offered in only 20 (6.7%) of the surveyed schools, including all of the magnet schools.

Correlations to Race and Socioeconomic Status

The racial composition of students in schools that do not offer physics is notably different from the city as a whole, with White and Asian students much less likely to be found in these schools.Schools that offer AP Physics also show a much higher percentage representation of Asian and White students.Schools that do offer physics typically have a racial composition of 36% Black, 36% Hispanic, 15% White, and 13% Asian; schools that do not offer physics have 45% Black, 46% Hispanic, 5% White, and 5% Asian.These disparities illustrate large racial inequities in access to physics.

Socioeconomic status, measured by percent eligible for free lunch, displays a similar relationship, with poorer students having restricted access to schools that provide physics as a science option.The average percentage of students who qualified for free lunch in New York City was 69% during 2004-2005; compared with 77.7% at non-physics schools and 53.3% at schools that offer physics.

Both race and socioeconomic status are inherent factors in determining the likelihood that students have access to Advanced Placement physics in NYC. Only 33.5% of students in schools offering AP Physics are eligible for free lunch. The racial breakdown of students showed similar disparities. The percentage of White and Asian students is nearly triple the citywide average in schools that offer AP Physics, while the percentage of underrepresented minorities is 38% lower than the citywide average.Further illustrating this point, the Bronx, the poorest borough in New York City with the largest population of underrepresented minorities, has only two high schools that offer AP Physics (one is a highly selective science magnet school).

Often, students’ addresses, race, or socioeconomic status are major determining factors in whether they have the opportunity to study secondary physics at any level. This inequity in access to physics needs to be addressed in a comprehensive plan to improve science education for students in urban locales if the goal of “science for all” is to be attained. Major changes are required in schools’ structuring of physics course offerings; additionally, keeping an eye on racial and socioeconomic balance is essential in providing socially just opportunities in the study of physics. The evidence presented here is a starting point for identifying the extent of inequities in order to develop long-term reform efforts to improve physics access.

Policy Recommendations

NSBP calls for the following policies to increase access to K-12 physics courses for all students.

  1. States and the NCAA, which collects high school course data, should improve their databases of what schools are offering physics courses.  Each State should have a verifiable system of course offerings and student outcomes.
  2. In the No Child Left Behind Act or its successor, Congress should emphasize opportunity to learn and adequate funding.
  3. Congress, the States, STEM and teacher professional organizations should have mechanisms for meaningful science education standards for all K-12 schools and students.

For more information on the New York City schools study contact
Angela M. Kelly, Ph.D.
Department of Physics & Astronomy
Center for Science & Mathematics Education (CESAME)
CESAME: 094 Life Sciences Building | 631.632.7075 (office)
PHYSICS: A-141B Physics Building | 631.632.8168 (office)
Stony Brook University
Stony Brook, NY 11794-5233
www.stonybrook.edu/cesame

IAU Office of Astronomy Development Stakeholder’s Workshop – Day 2 December 14, 2011

Posted by International.Chair in : Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTRO), History, Policy and Education (HPE), Technology Transfer, Business Development and Entrepreneurism (TBE) , add a comment

by Dr. Jarita Holbrook
Tuesday December 14, 2011

The IAU Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD) has three established task forces. Tuesday December 13th, the workshop participants were assigned to task forces and met for the morning session. The goal was to brainstorm new ideas at the intersection of astronomy and development, but also to consider how to implement the published OAD Strategic Plan.

In the afternoon we had breakout sessions by regions. The divisions were Africa and the Middle East, Latin America, Asia Pacific, North America, and Europe. In these breakout sessions we were to examine our regional strengths and regional needs. North America consisted of representatives from the United States and Canada. Mexico joined the Latin America group.

As with other places worldwide North America has underserved populations that we would like to help such as First Nations/Native Americans, underrepresented groups, inner city underclass, etc. There were two tiers of needs, the first was to do things that astronomers normally do but reach these underserved communities. That is astronomy education and astronomy outreach, there are already many programs and networks to do these but these need to be extended to these communities. The second need was to consider social justice, cultural awareness, and egalitarian science in the context of astronomy for development.

This area was a fairly new way of thinking for astronomers and specific strategies, methods, actions and activities are left for the future. Unlike other parts of the world, North America is rich in resources including in plain old cash!

There are over 300 volunteers registered through the OAD website, few of these are from North America. Thus, there is a need to recruit volunteers. The North American group did not discuss WHERE an OAD node office should be located instead we focused on the issues discussed above.

OAD Workshop Participants Silvia Torres-Peimbert (Mexico), Postdoc Linda Strubbe (USA), and Graduate Student and NSBP Member Deatrick Foster (USA)

Texas’ Decision to Close Physics Programs Jeopardizes Nation’s Future September 14, 2011

Posted by admin in : Health Physics (HEA), History, Policy and Education (HPE), Medical Physics (MED), Technology Transfer, Business Development and Entrepreneurism (TBE) , add a comment
The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) has to varying degrees cut 60% of the undergraduate physics programs in State. This includes both programs at its two largest Historically Black Institutions, Texas Southern University (TSU) and Prairie View A & M University (PVAMU). Although all these institutions have the right to appeal the State’s decision, the dramatic nature of these and other actions strongly suggest that short-term politics, not good science education planning or sound economic policy, is motivating their actions.
 
In 2009 Texas state schools produced 162 B.A./B.S. degrees in physics (and another 38 by its private schools).  But Texas produces 50% fewer B.S. physics degrees, per capita, than California.  Closing physics programs would therefore seem to be a step in the wrong direction.
 
The State of Texas is leading the country down an abysmal path.  If all the other states were to adopt Texas’ approach, which the State of Florida is already considering, 526 of the roughly 760 physics departments in the US would be shuttered.  All but 2 of the 34 HBCU physics programs would be closed.  A third of underrepresented minorities and women studying physics would have their programs eliminated.  Physics training would be increasingly concentrated in larger elite universities with very adverse effects on the future scientific workforce.
 
College physics programs are the incubators of content-driven K-12 physics teachers that sow the seed-corn of future Texas innovators.  Physics graduates are direct contributors to economic prosperity.  Even at the BS level a physics degree leads to high-paying jobs that fire the engines of innovation.
 
Texas universities, including the flagship schools, have been unable to produce their fair share of African American B.S. physics graduates; producing at least 75% fewer African American baccalaureate degree recipients than they should (5 vs 20).  This number will become even worse once the physics programs at TSU and PVAMU disappear.
 
In October 2000 the THECB adopted the “Closing the Gaps” plan with strong support from the state's educational, business and political communities. The plan is directed at closing educational gaps in Texas as well as between Texas and other states. It has four goals: to close the gaps in student participation, student success, excellence and research.  This plan with respect to physics is being betrayed by the elimination of the two physics programs at the two leading state HBCUs, particularly when one of them, TSU, has started to make significant gains in all four directions.
 
The TSU physics program was created in 2004 through the separation of physics from the computer science department.  In 2005 its new chair was hired.  He revamped the program, replacing the old faculty with research driven faculty of national/international standing, representing some of the top universities in the world.
 
A new curriculum, with workforce relevant physics tracks (including in health physics), was approved by the THECB in 2008. Since 2007, approximately $1,000,000 dollars was leveraged through the Office of Naval Research and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in support of the current health physics program.  Another $1,000,000 has been raised through federally-funded, and state-supported, research grants (NSF, NASA, DOD, Welch Foundation).  On September 1, 2011, TSU won its first $5,000,000 NSF CREST Center grant.
 
TSU Physics has the only health physics program in the greater Houston area.  Health physicists are particularly needed in a city known for its Texas Medical Center complex, one of the world’s largest collection of medical research, diagnostic, and treatment centers.  By 2012, five of TSU’s seven graduates will have pursued the health physics track.  According to salary data from the Health Physics Society, certified B.S. health physicists can expect salaries of $106,000.
 
TSU-Physics produced its first two students in May 2010, representing 40% the total African American physics B.S. degree recipients in TX.  State records show that for each of the last six years, the overall production of B.S. degrees in Physics, awarded to Blacks, by State schools, has been no more than five (5).  In May 2010, TSU produced 40% of these, with both graduates eventually going on to graduate studies at the University of Houston (UH). One is enrolled in the Ph.D. program in environmental engineering; the other is taking graduate physics courses.  
 
By May 2012, TSU-Physics will have produced four new B.S. graduates, two of them African American.  By May 2013 it will produce six more (five of them African American).  The State of Texas considers any undergraduate program that can produce five graduates per year as programs performing at State expectations. Thus, clearly, TSU will be in compliance within the next two years.
 
The principal critique by the THECB for cutting TSU-Physics is that there are too many low enrollment (i.e. less than ten students) upper level classes. As part of its appeal to the THECB, TSU-Physics was prepared to join the Texas Electronic Coalition for Physics, primarily involving small physics programs within the Texas A & M University system. Programs such as that at Tarelton State University (i.e. Texas A & M – Central Texas), the lead institution within the Consortium, pool their students with the other consortium members and teach common upper level courses through videoconferencing resources.
 
Georgia’s Atlanta University Center, comprised of Morehouse, Spelman, and Clark Atlanta University, have historically contributed to the Georgia Institute of Technology performance as one of country’s top producers of Black engineers, by feeding them well prepared African American students.  This is a model that can be realized in Texas via Texas Electronic Coalition for Physics. 
 
However, the THECB also cut these programs. They will only allow this consortium to stay, supposedly, provided only one institution awards the B.S. Physics degree. Clearly the THECB has no appreciation of the importance of mentoring physics majors, and the importance of some sense of ownership in the physics program by students and faculty. Without formal B.S. degrees at each institution, it is difficult for departments to receive grants, etc., thus precipitating a systematic demise of any such physics effort.
 
Altogether the THECB decision is short-sighted and abandons tax-payer investments already made.  In the case of TSU-Physics these investments have already paid off, and the program is the verge of meeting the key THECB enrollment metric.  The THECB decision jeopardizes Texas’ overall economic prosperity and African American participation in it specifically.  And if the Texas model spreads to other states, the nation’s security will surely be put at risk.
 
 

NSBP and sister societies respond to National Science Board regarding broader impacts criteria July 20, 2011

Posted by admin in : History, Policy and Education (HPE) , add a comment

Merit Review Task Force
National Science Board
Room: 1225N
4201 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, Virginia 22230, USA

Dear Merit Review Task Force,

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed revised text for the Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts evaluation criteria.

Members of the National Technical Association and other minority professional organizations are very concerned about the potential negative impact of the proposed changes to the Merit Review Criteria. We are particularly, concerned about the reduced visibility to the importance of STEM diversification.

Firstly, the proposed changes to the broader impacts text can lead one to infer that diversity is an option and not required since one of the national goals addresses it explicitly. It appears to allow PIs to choose other goals and be evaluated without addressing diversity. Diversity appears to become an option rather than central to all programs and projects and activities, as stated in the existing criteria.

Secondly, utilizing the broad base national goals as the core principles makes it very difficult to develop a clear framework to benchmark or measure the creativity, educational impacts and potential benefits to society of the programs, projects, reviewed. Each national goal embodies a multiplicity of challenges that are interrelated and dependent on other goals. Several goals address education, while others address workforce which are essential to the development of global competitiveness, yet another goal. Measuring impact at the goal level can become problematic. It is easier to identify underlying issues/causes that should be addressed to advance national goal(s) rather than focus on the goals themselves.

We recommend that NSF make it clear that its commitment to diversity is unchanged and indicate how diversity will be factored into the evaluation of all programs, projects and activities regardless of which national goals are addressed.

To advance the frontier of knowledge and achieve global competitiveness, a well trained American born workforce is imperative. Given the projected population demographics, the eligible workforce will shift more to people of color who are underrepresented in STEM. It is more critical than ever that NSF support programs that address workforce development and STEM education improvements to ensure America realizes its STEM related national goals. Whereas, linking programs to national goals is important, it is crucial to first define the national problems that need to be resolved to realize national goals and support research/models that resolve these issues.

Based on these facts, we urge the Merit Review Task Force to focus on criteria changes that identify categories of problem/ issues it will support to advance national goals and at the same time support its commitment to diversity.

Sincerely,

National Organization of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers
National Society of Black Physicists
National Technical Association

US SKA Consortium votes to dissolve itself in light of decadal survey and budget realities June 15, 2011

Posted by admin in : Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTRO), Cosmology, Gravitation, and Relativity (CGR), Earth and Planetary Systems Sciences (EPSS), History, Policy and Education (HPE) , add a comment
At its meeting in Arlington, VA on June 7, the US Square Kilometer Array (SKA) Consortium voted to dissolve itself as of December 31, 2011.  The consortium consists of US universities and research institutes that are studying and prototyping technologies under development for the SKA

The decision follows from the 2010 astronomy decadal survey, which did not give the SKA a positive funding recommendation.  The National Science Foundation (NSF) has decided to follow that recommendation. As a result the United States will no longer be officially part of the international SKA project.

But this does not mean that the Americans are not participating in the overall project, in fact the US radioastronomers still remain supportive of it.  There are Americans on the engineering advisory committee.  Also the deputy director of the astronomy division at NSF, Vernon Pankonin, chairs a committee that will be making a site selection recommendation, though officials are quick to point out that his participation is not in his official capacity, and in no way implies the participation of the agency.  Pankonin's committee is set to recommend a site for the SKA, either Australia/New Zeland or Africa, in February 2012. 

The National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP) has been supportive of the African bid, including participation in the recent workshop on the SKA and human capacity development. Later this year, NSBP plans to launch the US-Africa Astronomy and Space Sciences Institute.

NSBP member, Eric Wilcots, also a member of the US SKA Consortium, feels that the dissolution decision will have little immediate impact on the international project.  "The large part of the US financial involvement was only to materialize in the next decade.  India, China and Canada have joined the effort since the time of the original planning.  Whether or not these countries will participate financially in this decade to the extent that was envisioned for the US is unknown at this point."

Charles McGruder, also an NSBP and US SKA Consortium member, agrees.  "The SKA is conceived to come together in phases.  Phase 1 will likely proceed in this decade even if the US is not an official participant.  Phase 1 includes epoch of reionization and NANOGRAF (pulsar timing) experiments, which did get postive funding recommendations in the decadal survey."
 
"Individual American astronomers will undoubtedly stay involved with the SKA through these research projects," adds NRAO's Ken Kellermann, a past chair of the International SKA Science and Engineering Committee.

This bodes well for the South African effort, Wilcots points out.  The South Africa MeerKAT is much better suited for pulsar timing studies than the Australian ASKAP.   The PAPER experiment was recently deployed in South Africa eventhough it was originally planned to be located in Australia.  Also a US team intending to work with the Murchison Widefield Array, which is under construction in Australia, was recently informed by NSF of the agency's declination of their funding proposal.

There are efforts to find other sources of funding, public and private, to support the US involvement in the SKA project.  There are intersections between US policy towards the SKA, broader American foreign policy interests, and interest in the diversity of the global scientific workforce.  Some Members of Congress have become interested in the SKA as a mechanism for increased trade with Africa.  Whether or not this leads to an administrative policy directive or congressionally mandated spending remains to be seen.  

Governor Nominates Former NSBP President to the State Board of Education March 21, 2009

Posted by HPE Section Chair in : History, Policy and Education (HPE) , add a comment

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley has nominated Dr. Sylvester (Jiim)  Gates for a seat on the Maryland State Board of Education.

In making these appointment Governor O’Malley remarked, “I am especially proud to make a number of appointments to fill key leadership positions on our State Board of Education, the University System Board of Regents and the Community Colleges Boards of Trustees to continue the progress we have made in building the No. 1 ranked school system in America, and making college more affordable for our families.”

“Getting our members in position to take on key public policy positions like this one has been a key initiative of the National Society of Black Physicists,” says Dr. Charles McGruder, who was the president of the organization when the initiative started.    Jim Gates was the first chair of NSBP’s Public Policy Committee.    Since the initiative began several years ago NSBP has conducted several policy briefings on Capitol Hill and at its annual conference.

One particular policy issue that NSBP has been discussing is the opportunity for all students to take a physics class when in high school.   High school physics is a gateway course for post-secondary study in science, medicine, and engineering, as well as an essential component in the formation of students’ scientific literacy.  Yet, despite reports to the contrary, the availability of physics as a course for high school students is not equitably distributed throughout the United States.

“I intend to bring to my State Board of Education a commitment that a solid science education course, including physics, should be available to all
members of the diverse student population in Maryland,” says Gates.

“We are very excited about Dr. Gates’s appointment, says Dr. Peter Delfyett, current President of NSBP.    “NSBP stands by to help him, the Board of Education and the Governor make sure that every child in Maryland has access to a first-class science education.”

The Maryland State Board  of Education  is a 12-member body appointed by the Governor. Members bring to their task a wide range of professional and civic experiences. Members serve staggered four-year terms and may serve two full terms.

Dr. Gates is a noted theoretical physicist. He  has been featured on NOVA PBS programs on physics, most notably “The Elegant Universe” in 2003. He is currently the John S. Toll Professor of Physics at the University of Maryland, College Park. Dr. Gates received both his Bachelor of Science and PhD degrees from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His doctoral thesis was the first thesis at MIT to deal with supersymmetry, and is known for his work on supersymmetry, supergravity, and superstring theory. He was President of the National Society of Black Physicists from 1993-1995.