We, the members of the Northern California and Nevada Section of the American Association of Physics Teachers (NCNAAPT), are concerned about the inequity of physics education at James Lick High School for the 2018-2019 school year. Recently Principal David Porter decided to cut all physics classes for 2018-2019 at James Lick High School. Physics education opportunities in the East Side Union High School District will be unequal if the physics programs at James Lick High School are cut. While not every James Lick High School student is interested in physics, each student deserves the same opportunity to learn physics as peers at other East Side Union High School District high schools. To deny only the students at James Lick High School the opportunity to take physics is unilaterally limiting their future opportunities. As a professional society of physics teachers, we were appalled to hear that restricting students’ opportunities was even considered.
In the East Side Union High School District 50% of students qualify for the Free And Reduced Lunch Program while over 80% of the James Lick High School students qualified in the 2016-2017 school year. James Lick High School’s School Accountability Report Card (SARC) for the 2016-2017 school year had over 85% students classified as socioeconomically disadvantaged. This means James Lick High School has the second highest population of socioeconomically disadvantaged students and the highest percentage of Hispanic/ Latino students in the district.
The American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) made the following statement about Physics education in this May 2015 Executive Board statement:
“The American Association of Physics Teachers is committed to increasing access to physics courses and physics related careers for all individuals including people of all races, religions, national origins, sexual orientations, ethnicities, genders and gender identities, physical appearances and abilities, socioeconomic backgrounds, regions, immigrant statuses, and military or veteran statuses.”
As part of the “National Task Force On Teacher Education In Physics Preparing High School Physics Teachers To Build A 21st Century Stem-Capable Workforce,” all signatories said that “All US students should have the opportunity to take at least one year of a high quality physics course in high school.”
The members of the American Physical Society, a council of professionals concerned with the fields of science, made the following statement in 2013:
“The American Physical Society calls upon local, state and federal policy makers, educators and schools to:
- Provide every student access to high-quality science instruction including physics and physical science concepts at all grade levels; and
- Provide the opportunity for all students to take at least one year of high-quality high school physics.”
The East Side Union High School District School Board’s published Core Values lists equity first: “Equity: We allocate resources, develop practices, and cultivate mindsets to ensure that every student meets or exceeds standards.” Superintendent Funk leads off his online biographical statement with “Education is the great equalizer. As Superintendent, I recognize that our greatest challenge is to ensure that every student will meet or exceed grade level standards based on local, state or federal assessments. This must be our mantra. However, our educational system has become one of privilege and not one of a right that every child deserves, especially low-income students of color.” To restrict equal access to James Lick High School students goes against its own district values.
While AAPT advocates for equal physics learning opportunities for all students, James Lick High School students will be losing the opportunity they already have. Creating an environment in which students are limited to only reaching the minimum graduation requirement, two years of science classes, their entire educational career is limited. The opportunity to learn basic physics will help students to learn introductory content in fields like electrical engineering, computer science, structural architecture, product research, and most of the careers employed in the local Silicon Valley, such as at the Google campus that recently opened. Most science and technology related jobs require a basic understanding of physics, and most science majors will require at least one course for graduation.
Physics courses are often less expensive to maintain than other science courses like chemistry or biology, which require consumable purchases each year like chemicals and dissection specimens. Most physics equipment can be used for decades once purchased, and many lab programs can be run on simple, inexpensive materials like string, meter sticks, and stopwatches. The Next Generation Science Standards, adopted nationwide as a modern framework for teaching science, includes physics as a core science along with chemistry, earth science and biology. While ideally students take four years of science, the state of California has created a three year model in which earth science is included in the other three. This shows that even the state of California could not cut physics from its minimum list.
At our April 14th, 2018 meeting, the membership unanimously voted to draft this letter of support regarding continuing the physics program at James Lick High School in the interest of equity and access. Over seventy local Physics teachers from local high schools, colleges, educational programs and universities, were in attendance. In the interests of equity and opportunity, we strongly encourage the administration of James Lick High School to reverse the decision to cut their physics program..
Valerie Monticue, NBCT President of NCNAAPT
David Marasco, Ph.D. National Section Rep, NCNAAPT
The Northern California/ Nevada Section of the American Association of Physics Teachers