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One hundred twenty seven schools responded to the survey developed by VIP and sent out by DOE.  The survey was intended to find information about physics numbers in high schools.  It inquired as to teacher education, certification and years of experience.  It asked question concerning the “level” of physics and as to what math pre and co-requisites exist for those classes.

I will provide a brief overview of the findings here. I will handout a summary of the results at the spring VIP meeting. The survey should give the reader a feel for the “state” of physics teaching in Virginia.  All mistakes, errors, and unreasonable conclusions are entirely my own.  Thanks to all who completed and returned the surveys and to everyone who helped to create the survey, special thanks to Delores Dalton, DOE Science Supervisor, for mailing out and receiving the surveys.

The schools were divided into four categories.  These were based on population or status as a magnet or governors school.  The population sizes were below 500, from 500 to 1100 and greater than 1100 students enrolled.

All school sizes noted, on the average, an increase in population. There was, however, great variance between individual schools, some with growth and some with reduced population.  Both the larger schools and the mid-sized schools noted an average increase over the last three years of about 120 students.  The smaller schools had a proportionately much smaller rate of growth.

Trends in teacher experience and background are rather interesting.  The average teacher of physics has 15 years of experience with 10 years of experience teaching physics.  On the average teachers in the smaller schools had more experience, more years experience in teaching physics, and were more likely to be certified in physics than their colleagues in middle or large sized high schools.  Teachers in middle sized schools had more experience but were equally likely to be certified as those in larger schools.  81% of all teachers teaching physics were certified.  This rate was 93% in smaller schools, 80% in middle sized schools and 79% in larger schools.

Physics teachers in larger schools were somewhat more likely to have a degree in physics or engineering.  60% of all physics teachers have such a degree (this includes BS, MS, MA or Ph.D. in physics, physics education, or engineering).

Much greater differences can be observed when the courses being offered are examined.  The most common physics course being offered in the schools answering the survey is “Physics Alg/Trig”.  93% of all schools offer this course.  98% of the large schools, 91 % of the middle schools and 93% of the small schools offer a course at this level. There is a very small, probably negligible, growth in this level across the state.

 The notable differences show up in other levels offered.  “Physics Concepts” a course described on the survey as containing little or no math is offered by 33% of the larger schools, but by less than 10% of small and middle sized schools.  The “Physics Concepts” and “Physics Limited Math” is where there appears to be a lot of growth.  Schools report adding, on the average, just under 1.5 sections of each of these courses over the last 3 years.  Other areas of significant growth appear in IB Physics course offerings and Astronomy.  This growth probably represents new courses being offered.  These courses are only offered in a minority of schools, fewer than 10% offer astronomy and less than 5% IB.  IB Physics is being offered in a few mid and large sized schools but not in the smaller schools. Whereas, Astronomy is fairly equally represented in mid and large schools but more common in the smaller schools.  While some individual schools showed decreased enrollment in some courses offered, the overall trend is towards growth.

Data concerning course co- and pre- requisites is rather confusing.  I can conclude that different schools have very different policies.  Some teachers included comments that their school will not prohibit any student from taking a class based on what classes they may have or not have taken.  With respect to the Alg/Trig based Physics course there is more agreement about pre- requisites than for other courses.  When you examine this part of the data, refer to the survey for the number codes for the pre- and co- requisites.

The next two pages are graphs of # of Physics students vs. School Population.  I have included all schools on the graphs. This includes Governor’s and magnet schools.   I have fit a regression line to the data with full awareness that the data does not show a strong correlation.  There are obviously many factors that determine what percent of a school population takes physics.  I present the graphs and the other data as a way for us to reflect upon ourselves and to look for areas of growth and opportunity. 

The first graph shows Physics Population vs. School Population.  The second graph shows this data with numbers for conceptual and limited math physics removed from the data.  Neither graph contains numbers for astronomy students.

I hope you can find some aspect of this data useful.


Andrew S. Jackson
President Virginia Instructors of Physics
Astronomy & Physics Teacher Harrisonburg High School


Physics Students vs. School Population


Physics Students  in Alg/Trig based and
higher courses vs. Physics Population

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