Gov. Charlie Crist has another education bill on his desk, SB 4, and this is one he should sign. This bill — in stark contrast to the clumsy overreach of tenure-killing and morale-deadening SB 6 that Crist properly vetoed last week — creates a precise map for a better high school education. This is reform done right.
Passed with bipartisan support, the bill sponsored by Rep. John Legg, R-Port Richey, will eventually require students to take geometry, Algebra II, biology, chemistry or physics, plus one equally rigorous science course, in order to graduate from high school. Such standards will position Florida's graduates to compete far better in the global economy.
More immediately, the bill would replace Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests in high school math and science with end-of-course exams in geometry, algebra and biology. It also requires more rigorous science and math instruction. While the state would set standards for the end-of-course exams, the rules do not tell local districts how to teach. They simply set achievement levels for a rigorous high school diploma and then let individual districts decide how to reach them.
But the bill also requires schools to help students plot their futures, starting in middle school by offering career and college planning, including counseling students about high school graduation requirements, vocational certification options, the Bright Futures Scholarship Program, and college admission. In this way, students will be aware of what is expected of them even before they enter high school.
While the bill makes accommodations for students with learning disabilities and special needs, it's less clear exactly how the standards will apply to students who are below average. Districts will need to make sure such students are challenged but not overwhelmed.
These reforms will accelerate the need to fix another problem. The focus on math and science will likely leave districts hard-pressed to hire and keep enough qualified teachers in those subjects. The outdated stair-step salary and tenure structure is not going to help, and SB 6 was too flawed in its approach to those issues. Crist should sign SB 4 and then lawmakers, school districts and teachers should work together to tackle what comes next.