Giving all of Florida’s K-12 students the chance to “run as fast as they can” in our 21st century economy: What would it take?

At the conclusion of last Thursday’s debate on testing in the Florida Senate, K-12 Committee Chair John Legg responded to Senator Tom Lee’s emotional speech by saying he wanted to “change the narrative” and give all of Florida’s students – including the state’s “best and brightest” – the chance to “run forward and run as fast as they can.” (listen to the speech here at about the 117 minute mark).  Senator Legg had acknowledged that much of the state’s attention during the last fifteen years had been on the lowest quartile, and he argued that it is now “time to bring forward a new chapter” and look more broadly at the educational opportunities for all of Florida’s students.

It’s first important to acknowledge that the lowest quartile has historically been the most neglected group of students.  Even if Florida’s focus on that group during the last 15 years has seemed to be a bit of an overcorrection, it is both morally right and economically important to equip those students with the skills and knowledge to become members of society’s productive middle class.

But it’s equally important to give the rest of the state’s students opportunities to seize leadership roles in our technological society.  To do this, we must make sure that they have the math and science skills they need to lead.

Florida has had tremendous success in several K-12 areas.  The state is a national leader in elementary school reading.  Florida is also far above national averages in the rates of high school students who pass Advanced Placement exams in the arts, English, social sciences and world languages.

But in math and science at the elementary and middle school levels, and in Advanced Placement math and science courses, Florida is depressingly average.  And in these areas, the state remains mired in the same achievement gaps (racial, gender and socioeconomic) from which the rest of the nation suffers.

In the coming days, I’ll post some numbers on these issues.  We can only hope the time to address them has actually come.

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