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Thursday, Mar 26, 2015

Bright Futures still has problems


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The last time this writer visited this topic was five years ago. The first time was in the last century — five columns overall. It never gets resolved.

Like everything else in this country, it’s always about politics and hyphenated Americans. Everyone is hyphenated because of class, race and ethnicity. Yet America is applauded by other countries as having the most assimilated citizenry on the planet. Go figure. It absolutely is not true. Every minority hyphenated American is convinced they are marginalized. Our president has made sure of this.

And hyphenated Americans are part of a political constituency, with leaders pandering for their votes. The latest hyphenated American is — drum roll, please — the undocumented American! (What could be more of a non sequitur?) One out of ten Mexicans lives in the United States, and they are already hyphenated. It’s only fair.

This sentiment has been alive and well in educational circles. One Latina politician is upset that Bright Futures scholarships awarded to Latino students will drop by 60 percent because of revised standards.

She points out that “in comparison, eligible white freshman would drop from 17,000 to 10,000.” Do the math. That’s still 41 percent for the white kids – whatever white means to a Latino, the majority of whom consider themselves as white.

She refers to these students as having “strong records and high GPAs,” yet a student could receive a Bright Futures Medallion scholarship with only a 2.75 GPA. (Admittedly not a full scholarship). This not only is not bright; it isn’t even a competitive GPA. But Florida has had a history of awarding Bright Futures scholarships to students with SATs lower than average.

Liberals then attack standardized tests as unfair. I went to high school in New York State where the Regents exams were introduced in 1864. These are standardized end-of-course exams that were tough, and as I recall were delivered by armored car to our school and administered throughout the entire state on the same day and precisely at the same time — for obvious reasons.

If you passed them all, you were awarded a Regent’s diploma. You could flunk them and still get a standard diploma from your school. So much for this school’s tough standards. If Bright Futures used such an end-of-course test — but required more than a simple passing grade of 65, and coupled this with more-than-competive SAT or ACT scores — that would be a realistic compromise. (Certainly Advance Placement or and International Baccalaureate could be in the mix.) But the point is you can’t avoid standardized tests by disinterested third parties.

Liberals also object to giving Bright Futures scholarships to “rich” kids. Means testing is the progressive liberals’ solution to all societal issues. But these kids don’t have any assets — their parents do. So here we have a student whose parents have some money, yet will have a sense of personal accomplishment that she made it on their own without any financial help from Mommy or Daddy. By all means penalize the kid for being smart. There are dumb rich kids whose parents have to pay for all their tuition at a third-tier college.

In any other country, gifted students are identified early on, and rather than stick it to them because their parents are successful, the school system sticks them in tough schools with rigorous standards. Countries need top-notch talent to be competitive in this global economy.

Florida liberals regularly trot out former Florida chancellor Charlie Reed, who just retired as chancellor of the failed California university system(CSU). He says it’s misguided to use taxpayer dollars for students whose parents have money. The logical outcome of this reasoning would require a public school system to charge a student from a well-to-do family a stipend for occupying a seat in a public classroom.

More to the point, lottery revenues are not tax dollars.

And California’s scholastic requirements are even less realistic than Florida’s with a “Grant B competitive award” requiring a minimum GPA of only 2.0! Does Florida want to be in this race to the bottom? There is something wrong with an education agenda that focuses on awarding merit scholarships based on need rather than merit.

There are many poor kids who were college material but could have never afforded college without a merit scholarship, so they did what they had to do to get the grades and test scores. They are among the sharpest. Let’s use them as role models.

It is not coincidental that CSU brags on their website that it is “a leader in educating teachers … is ranked as California’s top public university in the number of students awarded a teacher credential … ” It also is not coincidental that the numbers of California failing schools as defined by our federal government are going up dramatically.

It would be callous, insensitive and a display of ignorance for me to not acknowledge that something must be done for the 60 percent of Latinos and 41 percent of whites who will not meet the new Bright Futures standards. They are clearly motivated and need guidance. We need them to be successful. It goes beyond the scope of this column, but community college may be a good next step.

The U.S. has a drastic shortage of skill-sets (hundreds of thousands of jobs), particularly in mechatronics, a multi-disciplinary field of mechanics, electronics and computer engineering. One German company is so desperate they are partnering with a community college paying non-college bound students to work part-time, while being schooled at their expense.

There are educational opportunities for these motivated students even though they do not meet the revised legitimate standards for Bright Futures. It would be ill advised to dumb down scholastic requirements under the guise of fairness and put these kids into something over their heads.

John Reiniers, a regular columnist for Hernando Today, lives in Spring Hill.

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