I can, in large part, credit my decision to become a physicist rather than an engineer to my high school physics class. Prior to that class I thought science was nice, but it all seemed rather fuzzy to me - a lot of hand-waive-y biology and chemistry that was as much about memorization as understanding. Engineering, on the other hand, was in my young mind much more concrete of a field and certainly heavier on math. Then I took an algebra-based physics class for the math-impaired and even that was enough to get me hooked. I saw how physics was simply applying math to the real world and I've been at it ever since.
What I'm trying to get at is the importance of physics at the high school level. In my obviously biased opinion, physics should be an essential part of high school or - as the Physics First people advocate - the gateway to science education. So how are we doing? From the ever-useful folks at the AIP's Statistical Research Center:
While things are looking up compared to the 80's and 90's, only 37% of American high school students take a physics class. That means that nearly two-thirds of the American public never gets the chance to see the most fundamental science.
So how do we improve that number? Well one way is to start by working on the states that are bring down the average.
For some reason the inter-mountain west and the southern states seem to be doing the worst, while only 5 states - Michigan, Massachusetts, Texas, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Wyoming - are bringing up the average. Interestingly, the study notes that requiring more science doesn't equate to more students taking physics: "two of the lowest physics-taking states did require 4 years of science for graduation, and most of these below average states required 3 years of science".
So if more since doesn't equal more physics, what does?