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Fla. May Alter Grad Requirements, Put Algebra 2 On Chopping Block

UPDATED

UPDATE: The Florida House of Representatives unanimously passed this Senate-approved bill on April 12 eliminating the Algebra 2 test as a graduation requirement, which means it heads to GOP Gov. Rick Scott. The governor's veto power, in case he's interested in exercising it, seems diminished by the fact that both chambers of the legislature approved it by more than a two-thirds majority, the majority level required to override a veto.

In the midst of possible major changes to graduation requirements in Texas, Florida has also taken a significant step towards changing high school requisites as well. There are similarities between what the two states are considering, including what tests and courses must be taken to earn certain types of diplomas. The idea, backers of the bill say, is to better align what Florida's students are learning and how they learn it with the expectations and demands of the labor market and business community. But the plan won't make everyone happy.

The Florida Senate approved Senate Bill 1076, which requires the state Board of Education to devise "multiple pathways" by which students can satisfy requirements for a high school diploma, including one that allows students to use industry certification they earn as academic credit towards a diploma. The idea driving this plan is that current coursework requirements for graduation "may not be suited for all students," and that, "Students who acquire skills best through applied learning could benefit from a pathway that leads to a high school diploma through attainment of rigorous industry certifications," according to a legislative analysis of the proposal. (The bill also includes the introduction of performance funding in the state's higher education system.)

What's the catch that may get people upset? The industry certifications approved by the state board could be used as substitutes by students for a few courses, including Algebra 2. As you might recall, when my colleague Erik Robelen wrote a post for this blog about possible easing of Texas graduation requirements, the Algebra 2 is one of the tests that would be eliminated as a requirement, under a proposal from Texas Sen. Dan Patrick, a Republican. The course is a controversial one, since some question to what extent many students actually need to know that content over the long term. Those agreeing with Sen. Patrick say that it's a reasonable reduction in the large amount of testing students have to deal with, while simultaneously granting them more flexibility.

But others have strenuously objected to stripping out the Algebra 2 requirement, including Texas Association of Business CEO Bill Hammond. He wrote for the Dropout Nation website on April 10 that, "Given the choice, will your children choose to take harder courses if those courses are no longer required to be considered for college admission? Currently, students must take the recommended curriculum to be considered for state college admission, but that will no longer be required" under Patrick's plan.

Erik has also written recently about putative long-term gains from "doubling up" on algebra instruction for ninth graders.

Taking Patrick's side of the question, Florida Sen. John Legg, a Republican, told Leslie Postal of the Orlando Sentinel that, "What this bill does is that it recognizes the jobs and the jobs skills of Florida today are different than they were in the past, and we need to prepare students for those jobs."

But the Foundation for Florida's Future, the prominent advocacy group founded by former GOP Gov. Jeb Bush, has previously advocated in favor of Algebra 2 requirements.

By the way, on a different Florida policy issue, the Associated Press reported April 11 that a Senate panel has altered a parent-trigger bill passed recently by the House. Senators amended the legislation so that local school boards, not the state Board of Education, would have final say on trigger proposals from parents. Local boards that vote to reject such proposals have to explain why in a public meeting, but that seems like a significant change for the bill, one that it seems won't make parent-trigger advocates happy.

Assuming that language is in the final Senate version of the bill, it will be interesting to see how (or if) the different version of the bill can be reconciled in conference committee. Remember, the Florida Senate voted down a parent-trigger bill sent over from the House last year.

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