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Joe Henderson: Florida algebra II requirement to graduate high school could go away

State Sen. Travis Hutson (a St. Johns Republican) is spot on with his bill to eliminate the requirement that Florida high school students must pass algebra II to graduate. He proposes allowing some students to take industry certification courses instead of high-stakes, high-level math and science courses.

I have not been a fan of the Republicans’ approach to public education in Florida, but they have it right on this one. Now, all they have to do is pass the bill.

I married into a family of high-achievers in advanced math. My wonderful daughter-in-law teaches high-level math in high school. You might think such exposure would make me preach that every living human being must master those equations or the Republic will be doomed.

It did not.

Basic algebra baffled me back in the day, and we won’t even discuss what algebra II would have done to me had I tried to take that course.

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My wife doesn’t understand. She points out that I can figure arcane baseball statistics to the ninth decimal point, which is true. She says that’s basically algebra, but she is wrong. Those are fixed numbers.

Take out one of those numbers and put Y2 in its place and my eyes glaze over. And I’m not ashamed of it!

Algebra II can leave a non-math person dazed, confused and ultimately defeated, but the state placed a scarlet X on them anyway. When Florida began requiring a passing grade in algebra II to graduate, my first thought was that the dropout rate was going to spike.

“We have a performance and funding formula that is geared toward high school graduation in Florida,” Hutson told the St. Augustine Record. “We are forcing districts to take children that probably can’t pass some of these classes and just make them try. The children suffer.”

Educators and lawmakers ignored the fact that not everyone is wired to comprehend advanced math. There shouldn’t be a stigma on that.

This dates back to the Jeb Bush era when we faced the end of civilization as we knew it because our students lagged far behind many other countries in math and science. That brought a demand for tougher standards and accountability, but not much has really changed on the world stage.

In 2016, The Washington Post reported U.S. students ranked 40th in the world for math literacy,

Just spit-balling here, but maybe that’s because some of those countries don’t force students whose advanced math aptitude may be low to take those courses. Test scores in those countries are going to better because the low-achievers are learning different things.

Obviously, students planning to attend college need to take these courses and score well in them. But with college costs escalating beyond imaginable levels, more people are rightly asking if they really need a four-year degree to be successful.

They do not.

Industry certifications can open doors and lead to good careers. Gov. Ron DeSantis has made expanded vocational training opportunities a key plank in his education platform.

That’s an excellent idea.

Employers throughout the state have complained there are more jobs available than there are qualified people to fill them.

Find classes that match their abilities and interests and you’ll have graduates who are better prepared for the real world. And we’ll still have plenty of math wizards and scientists. The Republic will survive.

Written By

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

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