Florida Council of 100 pushes end-of-course exams, Bright Futures reform, university changes

The Florida Council of 100, a group of business leaders, released a report today arguing that major reforms in the state’s educational system are necessary to promote the renewal of the state’s economy.  The report emphasized the role of a knowledge-based STEM economy in Florida’s future, saying “by 2015, we will need at least 100,000 more STEM professionals than we are on track to produce.”  Several of the report’s recommendations apply directly to science and engineering education.

The Council recommended expanding the end-of-course testing program immediately.  The state has only scheduled implementation of tests in algebra, geometry, biology and civics, although Commissioner Smith has said that the FDOE also has plans to implement EOC tests in other science areas.  However, the Council report recommended immediately appropriating $20 million to expand the EOC testing program and “get the job done.”  The report was not specific about which subjects should be added to the EOC testing program within that $20 million appropriation.  EOC tests cost $1.5 million per year per test to implement.

The Council also recommended raising the eligibility requirements for Bright Futures scholarships, and then providing “full-value” awards only to students majoring in STEM fields.

The report includes proposals for sweeping changes in the State University System.  The Legislature would provide a “one-time” $1.75 billion injection in funding to the system over the next five years as a stop-gap measure while higher revenues kick in via the 15% annual tuition increases authorized during the 2009 legislative session.

In return, the universities would adopt dramatic new accountability measures, including degree production targets and standardized exit examinations.  One accountability measure suggested in the report is the number of degrees in STEM fields produced annually.

The Council reported that Florida ranks 45th in the nation in the percentage of baccalaureate degrees awarded in STEM fields by public universities (17%) and 25th in the nation in the percentage of graduate degrees awarded in STEM fields (20%).  Overall, the state ranks 40th in the nation in science and engineering degree production per 100,000 of population.

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