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High Standards Needed for Florida Students to Compete

A report from the Florida Senate released this month says that if the state wants to compete globally in math and science, the Legislature needs to investigate major revisions to public school instruction.

“Florida must be poised to attract new enterprises in order to revitalize and expand the state's economy, and businesses look first to a state's ability to produce a talented workforce,” the report says.

Lawmakers began examining a push for heightened graduation standards last year. Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, and Sen. Thad Altman, R-Viera, both filed legislation to that effect, but it failed to make it out of the Senate.

The biggest holdup seemed to be the potential fiscal impact of the bill. Legislative analyses said the bill would create no additional costs for schools because additional curriculum was not being created. The classes were already a part of the school, but under the proposal, all students would be required to take them. The teachers' union and other education groups were not entirely convinced that there would be no additional costs, something that also concerned some lawmakers in a tight budget year. Many members of the Senate seemed unwilling to vote on the issue until the cost question was resolved and more educators could weigh in on the proposal.

Currently, Florida high school students are required to complete 24 credits: four credits in English; four in math; three in science; three in social studies; one in fine arts, speech and debate; one credit in physical education; and eight electives.

Fresen has re-filed the bill for the 2010 legislative session.

Under the bill filed for the coming session (HB 61), students who are in ninth grade in 2011-2012 would be required to take one year of algebra and one year of geometry as two of their four required math classes, plus a year of biology for one of three science credits. It would continue to raise the bar, so that in two years, ninth graders who start in 2013-2014 would have to take two years of algebra and one of geometry as part of their four math classes. And it would require a year of biology and a year of chemistry.

The report did note that students are making gains in reading and math, but those gains are coming at the elementary school level, with scores tapering off as the students progress to middle school and high school. The state may need to look at better teacher training as part of the solution to that, the staff report read.

There was one bright spot in the report, with staff noting that Florida's voluntary pre-kindergarten program has established “promising groundwork” in providing a foundation for learning in the early years.

“Students enrolled in VPK programs that embrace emergent literary skills are far better prepared academically than children without access to these skills in the early years,” the report said.

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