Some Highlands County residents believe changing the requirements for high school graduation is equivalent to lowering standards. Others think the changes make the system more adaptable to individual needs of students.
Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation Monday that eliminates the requirement that all students take certain science and mathematics courses to graduate.
The legislation also boosts virtual education and online education, in part by having the University of Florida establish an online program providing degrees to graduating students.
“This legislation transforms our education system and is an important step to ensuring the success of our future workforce, who are students in our classrooms today,” Scott said in a press release. “As I travel the state, families tell me they worry about three things: getting a great job, a quality education, and keeping their cost of living low. This legislation helps us take a giant step forward toward that goal.
The bill reverses the decision three years ago to require that all students take tougher courses, such as Algebra II, chemistry and physics. Now, students who aren’t planning to attend college can take career education courses.
The new law (SB 1076) makes changes to everything from testing requirements to the addition of a financial literacy requirement for high school students to learn about credit cards, debt and identity theft.
The main part of the legislation allows students to graduate from high school even if they don't complete tough classes in both math and science.
Legislators in 2010 raised the state's graduation requirements by adding Algebra II and science courses such as chemistry and physics. The goal was to align high school standards to the types of skills needed to attract high-wage jobs in the state.
But the law Scott signed removes those requirements, which is a position backed by school superintendents. Instead, college-bound students could opt to take tougher courses and earn a high school diploma that includes a “scholar” designation. Students also would be allowed to take career education courses or enroll in work-related internships.
The new measure also removes requirements to pass end-of-course tests in biology and geometry to earn a diploma. Instead, the tests count as 30 percent of a student's final grade
Weatherford acknowledged that was a glitch that legislators may want to fix.
Some of the lawmakers who opposed the bill questioned the idea behind it. Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, noted that students of today will likely change careers several times over their lives. He cautioned about training students for an industry that might one day be a “dinosaur.
However, Paula Sapp, an area resident, said on Facebook she believes it’s a good idea to change the requirements.
“Some students are not great math or chemistry students,” she wrote. “Every student is different. I think that it’s a great idea. How many students that end up in the general workforce need chemistry? Give them skills they can use. The ones that will go to college take what they need to get there,” she wrote.
But Wes Lincott, another area resident, voiced concerns about “lowering the standards.”
“I don’t recommend lowering the standards too much,” he said. “All students should at least learn basic algebra and geometry, as well an introduction to basic chemistry.”
“Keep on lowering standards (is) just what we need,” commentator Cindy Hendrix wrote on Facebook. “Kids can not read, write or do simple math as it is.”
But Karen L. Neale Tedder, a parent, said that the career programs, such as the career academy meet the needs of students.
“It offers several courses that when completed, the student is ready to join the workforce or help them with college classes they will need to take,” she wrote.
The far-reaching measure also sets the stage for the University of Florida to take the lead in online education in the state.
The state's most prestigious university would gain the right to offer bachelor degrees completely online
The cost of the online courses could not be more than 75 percent of the tuition charged to Florida residents who attend school at the Gainesville campus. UF will get $15 million in the coming year to carry out its new mission.
“I think with this legislation the University of Florida will take a step forward to become one of the preeminent universities in the country,” said UF President Bernie Machen.
The new “preeminent” designation also applies to Florida State University, which is eligible for extra money to help it attract national known scholars to the faculty. The new law also gives UF and FSU the authority to mandate that incoming freshmen take up to 12 hours of courses that could not be bypassed through Advanced Placement courses in high school.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.