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Florida Panel Urges Statewide Graduation Standards

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Florida's Governor's Commission on Secondary Schools has recommended the establishment of rigorous, statewide requirements for high-school graduation, with particular emphasis on mathematics and science, that would be phased in beginning next year.

The commission, formed by Gov. D. Robert Graham in October 1981, was directed to conduct a "critical examination of secondary education for the purpose of developing specific strategies and plans to improve the quality of education in Florida." Its members include state legislators and educators.

The recommendations made in the commission's report, "Secondary Education: A Report to the Citizens of Florida," reflect the panelists' investigation of the current state of affairs in the schools and their perception of how problems--of which there are many, according to the document--should be remedied. Their report suggests that "four broad categories of change are necessary":

High standards of education that are developed after a thorough revision of the high-school curriculum must be imposed.

Incentives and rewards for attracting and retaining high-caliber principals and teachers must be established, and requirements for teacher training and certification must be upgraded.

Funding for academic programs must be increased, with special emphasis on the major disciplines.

The effectiveness of schools must be measured and strengthened.

The commission report also suggests measures that the legislature could enact to foster these changes.

Wide Range of Issues

The commission uncovered a wide range of issues that it said need attention in order to improve secondary education in Florida.

One of the central difficulties, the commission notes in its report, is that a "proliferation of electives ... [has] virtually taken over the schools' curricula, leaving very little of an academic core which is required of all students."

Currently, each school district sets its own curriculum, a situation that the commission says has led to "serious deficiencies and gross inequities." Few students choose to take the more rigorous courses; most "concentrate on an incoherent collection of trivial electives," the report says.

"As a consequence," it continues, "the program for many of the state's high-school students can best be described as a disconnected assortment of inconsequential electives leading to nowhere."

To remedy that, the commission recommends that the state enact minimum standards for high-school graduation that would include three years of mathematics, three years of science, and three years of history and social science. It also suggests continuing and strengthening the state's recently established writing program.

Residential High Schools

Another means of improving the state's science and mathematics education while providing a trained pool of workers, the commission suggests, would be to create three residential high schools. The schools would be modeled after the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, which is now in its third year. (See Education Week, Jan. 19, 1982.)

Industry, too, should be drawn into the process of improving science and mathematics education, the commission recommends. It urges "a new program of cooperation between the schools and the mathematics and science talent pool of the state."

The quality of textbooks used in Florida schools also drew criticism from the commission.

Many of the books are oversimplified and out of date, its report says, recommending that the state advise textbook publishers that Florida "will no longer accept mediocre texts."

The commission also recommends that vocational education be "radically restructured." Basing its arguments on national studies of the efficacy of vocational-education programs, it recommends eliminating those courses that have been shown to be "of doubtful value."

The group advises that vocational programs focus on training students in the community by working with employers rather than in the schools.

The teachers and principals who work in the schools also will play key roles in improving education, the panel's report says. Any attempts to upgrade quality, the commission states, "must correspondingly involve the improvement of the quality of leadership."

The group suggests tactics that school districts might adopt to attract and keep well-qualified principals.

They could advertise vacancies in principalships outside of the school district. Although promoting exclusively from within may "be good for local morale," it restricts the pool of applicants, the commission suggests.

And they could use a set of guidelines developed by the National Association of Secondary School Principals for assessing candidates.

To attract and keep high-quality teachers, the commission recommends several measures:

Significantly increasing education expenditures to increase teachers' salaries and decrease class size;

Creating new ways to attract able people into the profession;

Initiating new obstacles to inhibit people of limited ability from becoming teachers.

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