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High School Graduation Overhaul Clears Senate Hurdle

Senate President Don Gaetz has said he wants to see education become more relevant to workforce needs and demands and a bill clearing the Senate’s Education Committee would do just that. The proposal lays out different ways students can fulfill their high school graduation requirements while also earning industry certifications along the way.

It’s called the CAPE Act—short for Career and Professional Education. And it easily cleared the Senate’s Education Committee on a unanimous vote. The proposal would allow students to choose different pathways to take toward graduation. For example, students who like technology can choose courses designed to fit their interests, those interested in health can do the same, and students who want to go to college can select classes aimed at helping them get there. Some Industry certifications can also be used to  substitute for course credits.

 “This is not a watering down of our curriculum....of our graduation requirements. If anything, it’s a strengthening of those requirements and a clear indication of the seriousness in which we take this bill," said  Senator Bill Montford (D-Tallahassee) who also heads the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. 

The proposal ran into criticism in a House hearing the same day over concerns that the alternative graduation “pathways” would result in a “dumbing down” of state standards. Right now, most students have to take the same courses and pass all state exams in order to graduate. But Republican Senator Aaron Bean says that one-size fits all approach doesn’t work for all students:

“It’s time to realize that College isn’t for everyone. That’s what this bill does. And for those not going into college it gives them an earning potential, a chance to go right into the workforce and train them or go into a career school, he said.

The graduation pathways outlined in the Senate bill and one in the House, is similar to the old “tracking” system that schools used decades ago. In that system, students were placed into different graduation tracks—like vocational or college prepatory. The courses they took differed according to which track they were in. And state education Commissioner Tony Bennett says the tracking system was heavily criticized for not providing students in the vocational track rigorous coursework.

“Rigor and relevance are pretty common buzzwords in education. And I believe if we want to help our students complete and become productive and economic development drivers, and have high paying jobs we have to give them educational opportunities that meet a certain level of rigor. And that’s where that pathways discussion is so important.”   

Under the Senate version of the proposal, most of the state’s graduation requirements, like passing end-of-course exams, the FCAT and eventually Common Core tests, would stay in place. But the house version calls for a five year moratorium on those common core tests. That moratorium has raised concerns that students can be taught one thing, but be tested on something else.  There is also a component that calls for performance-based bonuses to universities that graduate students in high-demand workforce areas.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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