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A Survey of State Initiatives

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The Florida legislature, meeting in a special two-day session earlier this month, passed a major education-reform bill that, among other things, will create a statewide merit-pay system for teachers and extend the school day so students can take more mathematics and science courses. In late June, both chambers approved a companion measure that established statewide high-school graduation requirements in mathematics, science, and other disciplines. Gov. Robert Graham is expected to sign both measures.

State officials said the reform bills were drafted in response to criticisms of the state's education system contained in reports by two study groups. One group was created by Governor Graham in October 1981 to examine the condition of the state's high schools; the other was created in July 1982 by House Speaker H. Lee Moffitt to examine the quality of math, science, and computer education.

The bill passed in June requires that beginning in the 1984-85 school year, students must complete 22 credits, including three each in math and science, in order to graduate. Beginning in the 1986-87 school year, they would have to complete 24 credits, including four in English.

The "educational reform act of 1983," acted on by the legislature this month, contains four main components. The first part of the bill directs the state board of education to approve "minimum performance standards" for students in math, science, and computer courses, and orders the state commissioner of education to develop a comprehensive plan for the improvement of instruction in these areas.

This part of the bill also authorizes funding for: new "programs of excellence" in math, science, and computer instruction; summer educational camps for public-school students; and regional "centers of excellence" in math, science, and computer technology. The bill also provides "forgivable loans" of $4,000 to $5000 per year for a maximum of two years for college students who agree to teach "in a critical shortage area" in a state school for three years following graduation.

Students will have to repay the loans if they fail to teach in state schools for three years. Teachers willing to go back to college to be retrained to teach in a "critical shortage area" could also receive tuition reimbursements. The reimbursements will have to be repaid if the teachers do not complete their retraining with a minimum 3.0 grade-point average. In the upcoming school year, the state expects to experience a shortfall of 682 math and 421 science teachers.

The second part of the measure calls for the extension of the school day for high-school students by an additional period, from six to seven. Students would be directed to take either a math or science course during this new extra period.

The third section creates the "Florida Quality Instruction Council,'' which will oversee the state's new differential-pay system for teachers. The panel would consist of business professionals, school-board members, personnel-management specialists, teachers, school administrators, and college professors.

This section also creates the "Florida Meritorious Instructional Personnel Program," which would identify and provide financial awards to associate-master and master teachers. Teachers will be judged by three-member panels, composed of a principal, a teacher, and a layman with special knowledge in the subject area, at the district level. Associate-master-teacher candidates would have to document four years of teaching experience, at least two of which were spent in state schools. Master-teacher candidates would have to document seven years of teaching experience, at least five of which were spent in the state, plus at least three years as an associate master teacher.

The final part of the bill creates a 15-member "educational reform study commission" which will examine the new programs and determine whether they should be modified. The commission must issue its report by Jan. 15, 1984.

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