From the Orlando Sentinel, by Beth Kassab
Our state lawmakers aren't known for putting politics aside to reach a compromise that solves a problem.
When they do, they deserve credit.
So kudos to Sen. John Legg and Rep. Elizabeth Porter.
"Somebody was listening," said Walt Griffin, superintendent of Seminole County schools.They are two of the main architects behind a proposed revamp of high school graduation requirements that will give students more choices in how they prepare themselves for college or careers but will keep the rigorous standards Florida grads need to be competitive with the rest of the world.
Here is why Griffin is happy — and parents and students should be, too.
The proposed new graduation requirements ease back from some of the must-pass exams the state established three years ago.
Under the proposal, all students must pass year-end exams in algebra and 10th-grade English to graduate. But year-end exams in biology and geometry, as well as chemistry or physics, are no longer "must-pass," but they will count toward 30 percent of the student's grade.
On top of that, Algebra II would no longer be required.
If you're worried that requirements are being dumbed-down, don't be. These are reasonable adjustments to an overhaul of graduation requirements approved three years ago.
At the time, critics said those requirements would be too tough and were focused only on students who wanted to go to a four-year university.
They were right.
"We are addressing the forgotten half of our students," said Porter, a Republican from Lake City.
Legg, a sponsor of the 2010 changes, said the old standards amounted to a virtually worthless diploma and the state took "three steps forward."
"This moves back about a half a step," said the Port Richey Republican.
These new requirements wouldn't be the equivalent of Basket-Weaving 101. That could have happened with an earlier version of a House bill that would have allowed some students to graduate without taking geometry and some standardized tests.
That would have been a giant step back. A diploma with too-low standards could have put poor or minority students at risk of being steered to less rigorous course work from an early age.
Florida would have been right back to the "soft bigotry of low expectations" that former President George W. Bush talked about when all students aren't held to the same high standards.
There would be one diploma under the new proposal, and the standards could continue to increase as Florida moves toward the top-notch math and English curriculum called "Common Core."
In addition, the proposal comes with the option for students to earn "scholar" or "gold" distinctions on their diplomas.
The "scholar" level means a student passed all of the year-end exams and is prepared for college. The "gold" level means the student passed rigorous "industry certification" classes in subjects such as nursing or cyber-security.
Education Commissioner Tony Bennett supports the proposed requirements.
"I in no way see what the House and Senate did as backing up," he said. "It's more doubling-down."
That's an important endorsement, because Bennett is a longtime champion of higher standards in public schools and using Common Core to get there. Jeb Bush's education foundation, a leader in the education reform movement, also supports the changes.
Even the teachers union, typically at odds with Bush and other conservatives who want to reform public schools, didn't oppose the change this week.
A rare day in Tallahassee, for sure.
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