SB 6, The Sequel: The new version of the teacher quality bill will be the dominant education story in the 2011 Florida Legislature, and it may have profound impacts on the way science teachers are educated and compensated. If a ban on giving salary bumps to teachers based on graduate degrees in education is included in the bill (as it is in the draft being circulated by the Foundation for Florida’s Future), it will also strongly affect the finances of universities in Florida, since education accounts for about one-fifth of the graduate degrees awarded by the State University System.
SB 4 backlash, differentiated high school diplomas and amending the Sunshine State Science Standards: In the list of “Priorities for the 2011 Legislative Session” for the Florida School Boards Association is this gem: “Revise high school graduation requirements to accommodate students who wish to pursue a college ready curriculum and those who wish to pursue a career ready curriculum, and amend the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards to allow Career and Professional Education Academies the flexibility to implement applied math and science courses.” On one level, this is a reasonable call for differentiated high school diplomas, which I support. OPPAGA will release a report on differentiated high school diploma programs in other states on January 31. But even students who are aiming for “career ready” (instead of “college ready”) should be scientifically literate. The “Next Generation Sunshine State Standards” written by a panel of scientists and science educators at the K-12 and postsecondary levels and approved by the Florida Board of Education in February, 2008 explicitly say what science every high school graduate in Florida should know. The FSBA’s call to “amend the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards” is an argument against the science literacy that is so important for every Floridian to achieve.
2009 NAEP Science results: At long last, the results of the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress science tests will be released. Don’t expect good news for Florida.
Algebra 1 End-of-course exam: Florida’s K-12 system implements its first end-of-course exam – on Algebra 1 – this coming May. There are two potential problems. One is that this exam will be entirely online, and every Algebra 1 student at Florida’s public middle and high schools (yes, Algebra 1 is taught at both) will have to be accommodated by a computer which is flawlessly connected to the FDOE’s computer network. Good luck with that. The other potential problem is that many students will find out that they don’t know as much algebra as they thought they did. When Texas piloted its Algebra 1 EOC this past spring, the pass rate was 57%. Does anyone really expect Florida to do better?
Teaching facilities for colleges and universities: Even as the obsolete and undersized facilities for teaching the next generation of scientists and engineers at some of Florida’s postsecondary institutions continue to decay, the revenue stream intended to support the construction of the necessary replacement facilities continues to plunge. The PECO funding that supports the construction of teaching and research facilities is forecast to drop by half from 2010-2011 to 2011-2012. While the incoming Scott administration cannot in any way be considered “pro-tax”, the Governor-elect’s Education Transition Team is recommending a fix that the team says would result in “no additional burden on taxpayers”: “permanently raising the gross receipts tax on the sale of communications services by not less than an additional 1.00% and offsetting that increase with a decrease in the state’s communications services tax by an equal or greater amount.” I don’t know enough about the state’s finances to know whether this would make a significant change, but something has to be done if the state really wants to increase graduation rate of highly qualified scientists and engineers.
Vouchers for Everyone!: Whee! Oh wait – it’s “Education Savings Accounts”. Whatever the merits of such a plan, it doesn’t seem likely that it would survive a court challenge. Here’s a rash prediction: As spectacular as this story looks now, it will flame out before it takes too much of the legislature’s time. The legislature will want to focus on the teacher quality bill, which will consume a large amount of time and energy.