More than half of public-school students in both states are nonwhite. Fifty percent of Texas students and 56 percent of Florida students qualify for federally subsidized lunches. It's particularly important that low-income, Hispanic, and African-American students leave high school qualified to further their education — even if they don't plan on doing so right away. A college degree is the most important driver of social mobility. By 2020, 65 percent of all jobs will require some kind of postsecondary education, according to the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce.
Practically speaking, Texas's earlier college-prep coursework recommendations didn't fit reality. Despite the high bar, only about half of the state's high school graduates immediately headed off to college of any kind. "We wanted to give students and parents more flexibility, to not only be college-prepared — which I think we're doing a pretty good job of — but perhaps to expand that preparation to folks who may not be going to college," Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, a Republican who chairs the Texas House's Public Education Committee, says of the revision. The goal isn't to dumb down the curriculum, he says, but to let kids pursue a path that might not have been open to them before. The state's education-accountability system still rewards schools when students demonstrate college readiness.
Rather than a recommended four years each of math, science, and social studies, Texas students now need just three credits in each and must take five end-of-course tests rather than 15. Students will be able to earn "endorsements" in areas such as public service, arts and humanities, and business and industry. The State Board of Education is currently debating which endorsements will require Algebra 2.
Florida's new law rolls back the requirement (signed into law in 2010) that students take Algebra 2 and either chemistry or physics and allows some industry-focused courses to satisfy subject-area requirements. Students who earn advanced academic credits will receive a "scholar" designation on their diplomas, while students who earn one or more industry certifications will earn a "merit" designation.
Over the past decade, states pushed for more advanced academics — more polynomial equations! — but the rising cost of college, the dubious return on investment from a liberal-arts degree, and the competitive salaries earned by the holders of technical two-year degrees have caused many states to rethink their policies. The 16 other states that require Algebra 2 are staying the course for now, but that could change when legislatures reconvene next year.
Setting up a noncollege track doesn't necessarily have to divert students from postsecondary education. High school programs aligned to industry often prepare students for an associate's degree. Students who fill entry-level jobs in health care and other sectors are expected to go back to school to advance their careers.