College & Workforce Readiness

Florida Legislature Hands Outgoing Governor Partial Win

By Mary Ann Zehr — May 16, 2006 | Corrected: February 22, 2019 3 min read

Corrected: This article should have said that a report by a Florida Department of Education task force on improving high schools recommended a high school diploma that includes “an area(s) of specialization.”

The final legislative session of Gov. Jeb Bush’s two-term administration handed the Florida Republican mixed results on his agenda for middle and high schools.

His proposal that high school students be required to pick a major was dropped from an education bill approved by the legislature this month. Gov. Bush is, though, expected to sign the legislation, which includes other pieces of his agenda.

The bill gives high school students the option of naming a “major area of interest,” choosing a “minor area of interest,” or taking whatever electives they want in order to earn eight of the 24 credits they need to graduate.

Sen. Evelyn J. Lynn, a Republican and the sponsor of the bill, said it’s better that the requirement for a major was dropped from the final version, in part because people didn’t really understand what legislators were trying to do.

“Everyone is saying, ‘If you have majors, then you are going to lock a student in,’ ” she said last week. “We’re saying, ‘Absolutely not. We’re trying to help them find a guided pathway.’ ”

As it is, Sen. Lynn argued, the bill still would increase academic rigor in middle and high schools.

Under the measure, high school students would have to take four credits of mathematics, rather than the three credits currently required, to graduate. The bill would require students to pass at least Algebra 1 before graduation, which is also the case now.

It also contains new language encouraging schools to set specific goals to increase the number of students successfully completing Algebra 2 and geometry.

The requirements would go into effect for students entering high school in the 2007-2008 school year.

At the middle school level, the bill would require students in the 7th or the 8th grade to create educational plans in which they state their academic interests. They would update the plans each year through high school.

The Florida bill would not set as rigorous math requirements as some states have, because it simply encourages more students to take Algebra 2 and would not require them to do so, Matthew Gandal, the executive vice president of Achieve Inc., said. “Algebra 1 is becoming yesterday’s standard and Algebra 2 is becoming today’s standard,” he said.

But the bill’s requirement that middle and high school students have educational plans is “innovative and powerful,” said Mr. Gandal, whose Washington-based group, formed by state governors and national business leaders, advocates high standards for high school.

Called A++, building on Gov. Bush’s A+ plan that promotes elementary school improvement, the bill was passed May 4 by the Florida Senate on a vote of 39-1 and by the House on a vote of 90-24.

“The governor is very happy with the final product of the bill,” said Russell T. Schweiss, a spokesman for Gov. Bush, noting that the governor intends to sign the bill. “He feels it will add the relevance necessary for high school,” Mr. Schweiss said, “and will continue the success we’ve seen with the A-plus plan.”

‘Students Are Bored’

Cathy Shroeder, the press secretary for the Florida Department of Education, said the bill contains a number of recommendations made in a February report by a task force on improving high schools that was set up by the department.

“Our high school students are bored,” she said, adding that the educational plans are intended to help solve the problem.

“We’ve been very successful in our reforms at the elementary level,” she said. “Now we’re going to see positive effects on our middle and high school students.”

Requiring an additional math credit for high schoolers was one of the recommendations in the task force report. Providing tools for middle school students to develop an educational plan to address high school and postsecondary goals was another. The report didn’t recommend that students select majors.

Gene Bottoms, the senior vice president of the Atlanta-based Southern Regional Education Board, said that several other states in the South, while they don’t use the language of “majors” or “minors,” give students the option of choosing a career focus. Pre-engineering and banking are examples of such career concentrations, he said.

Mr. Bottoms said Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia have passed laws to get rid of a general strand of low-level courses, and instead require students to take classes with a college-preparatory focus, a career focus, or both.

“What high schools are trying to do,” he said, “is give kids an area of focus that gives them a reason for pursuing the more demanding academics, and staying and completing high school.”

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