In the coming days, more than 2.6 million students will return to our public learning institutions throughout the state. The challenges facing these young men and women could not be greater.
According to recent studies by the Program for International Student Assessment, which measures 15-year-olds' performance in reading, math and science literacy, our children are falling significantly behind their international peers in almost every category. Currently, the math skills required of our students to pass the 10th grade FCAT (and graduate) are typically covered by international students in the seventh grade.
Florida students are no longer competing with each other, or even with students from other states, but with students from India, Germany and China. Our long-term economic recovery is dependent upon our students' educational success.
Everyone agrees that a quality education is a core component of the success and future productivity of our children and nation. However, when it comes to identifying the fundamentals of a quality education, there is surprisingly much debate. America's antiquated education policies are neglecting the basics. Consequently, many young people are handicapped by serious academic deficiencies. Higher academic standards and well-defined goals are essential.
We must agree upon a rigorous core of knowledge that students are expected to master. We must have statewide, standardized end-of-course exams that ensure our students are mastering this core knowledge before they graduate from high school. And we must have quality educators in each and every classroom in the state. Our students are our most valuable resource today and for the future; we must challenge them to meet today's global demands essential to their future success.
In Florida, we have continued to make a significant investment in education over the past decade and, as a result, we have seen great progress toward closing the achievement gap among minority students. The U.S. Department of Education has identified Florida as one of only three states in the country to narrow the achievement gap in reading and math between minority and white students on the National Assessment of Education Progress, the only nationally representative exam of U.S. student performance, also known as the Nation's Report Card.
Additionally, Florida has taken the lead among the states by establishing a quality data system that contains information on each student's academic progress. This data helps identify each student's strengths and weaknesses. As teachers and administrators, we must now put that valuable information to good use.
Students and teachers alike need to know what's expected of them. If you expect more, you get more. Defining high and consistent education standards is the only assurance that all children will acquire the knowledge they need to succeed. As this school year begins, let us support our teachers, parents and students. Our future depends on their success.
John Legg represents west Pasco's District 46 in the Florida House of Representatives.