For more graduates-change rules

By Steve Estes

We are glad to see that the graduation rate for Monroe County schools is on an upward trend, hopefully forecasting a better educated populace in our near-term future.

Of course, the numbers released Tuesday don’t actually equate the the exact number of students that have earned graduation compliance from the local school district because of some rather odd regulations in state law.

In Florida, a student cannot obtain a standard diploma for high school completion unless they have satisfactorily passed the FCAT exam at some point along their high school career. An otherwise excellent student who is a poor test taker in standardized settings receives a completion certificate, useless for further education, and isn’t counted in the graduation pool. Students who for whatever reason can’t finish high school in a formal classroom setting, like needing to take a job to help struggling families of the working poor put food on the table, but use an alternative program such as the GED to garner a high school education level also don’t count in the district’s graduation numbers.

We personally believe that the FCAT is about a good a measure of academic intelligence as a hammer and a nail are for computer repair. But that’s another fight.

Superintendent Mark Porter says while he is pleased with the upward trend in graduation rates, he admits that the district is still not where he would like it to be in terms of graduation rates.

He says he wants 100 percent graduation for every student who starts in the Monroe system, even if not from Monroe.

That’s a lofty goal. And an admirable one. But probably not an attainable one.

You see, the local school districts have the responsibility to ensure that every child who enters the system comes out the other end with a standard graduation diploma whenever possible.

The problem with Florida is that the schools don’t have the authority to mandate that school age children attend school.

Until children reach the age of 16, school districts have a myriad of ways to cajole, persuade and even mandate that kids come to school, even so far as programs that can punish parents of kids with excessive truant behaviors.

And that manages to keep many kids who otherwise would just give up school as a bad video game from finding a permanent location on the couch at an early age.

But after 16, that authority ends.

In this state, students can sign themselves out of public school permanently without the permission of anyone other than themselves. And while the rule says that parents should be notified, it doesn’t mandate that parents be notified, and it doesn’t give parents the authority to object anyway.

Once the 16th birthday has passed in the rear view mirror, parents have little say other than their best efforts to force recalcitrant students to the classroom.

And that puts our school district in an untenable situation to achieve much greater graduation rates than it currently has.

The Florida Legislature that dreamed up that little morsel for the schools to have to swallow did no one any favors. Even if the kid doesn’t have to attend school, the parents still have legal responsibilities to ensure that the kid travels the straight and narrow until he/she turns 18 and is a legal adult on their own.

That is usually accomplished through a parental/school partnership with both sides working toward a common goal of graduation from high school and some basic underpinning for adult life.

If neither side in the partnership can provide the mallet to keep the kid on the straight and narrow toward education, the exercise can become futile and thus graduation rates are nothing more than manipulating numbers by the state to decide on some mundane funding formula that saves the Legislature money again at the expense of education.

Yes the state can withhold a driver’s license for drop outs until 18. That’s not exactly a major deterrent in areas where mass transit is the norm anyway.

Allowing students to decide if they’ll stay in school without any recourse by parents is one of the dumber things Florida ever did to its school-age children and the schools and parents who support them.

And it is a measure that needs to be repealed.

It is an area where educational lobbying efforts need to remain strong until the problem is fixed.

And only then can we crow about doing all we can to raise graduation rates at the state level.

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