tampabay.com

Kids can't be kids with governor's reform plan

By MICHELE MILLER
Published June 19, 2006


There's something to be said for the kick-around summer.

Those lazy mornings when you slept through the hum of a clunky old window fan and the click of the door signaling the elders' departure for the working world.

Your time was your own.

So maybe you got up after noon and ate cold pizza while watching The Bullwinkle Show on the couch with the "do not eat on" rule. Or perhaps you got up early and pedaled to the local pond to catch the sunrise and a couple of sunfish you'd have to toss back after they ate your bait. Later, you might sit around braiding gum wrapper chains or play capture the flag in the woods, where you were lucky to beat the birds to the blueberries your mom would fold into something called Blueberry Buckle.

These days, I'm the elder being greeted after work by pajama-clad, stringy-haired kids who want to know what's for supper.

The world has changed in a way that means my kids can't wander so freely. Their kick-around summer includes sleep-overs, video games and eating warmed-up leftover pizza while watching Totally Spies and Manga videos - sometimes, I've discovered, on the couch with the "do not eat on" rule.

There's time spent at the community pool, in a book, doing chores for great sums of money or Net surfing on the laptop I bought so I could write columns like this at home at 7 a.m. on a Friday just like I put on my time card.

Really, boss.

Much like those parents who have their kids' summers scheduled down to the minute, I had bigger plans.

But after the August to May marathon rat race that had me juggling my work for the Times and at home with the kids' school and extracurricular activities that promise to make them well-rounded, I just said ... well, you know.

I'm glad I did.

Kick-around summers should be a rite of childhood.

Just like high school should be a rite of adolescence.

Come 2007, high school in Florida is going to look more like college. That's when ninth-graders will be required to pick a major.

It's the law. Gov. Jeb Bush made it so when he recently signed the latest part of his education reform bill that is supposed to boost graduation rates and make high schoolers know what they will be when they grow up. Students will take charge of their future, the governor said in a news conference, "realizing the decisions they make today shape their tomorrow."

The bill, which also adds another math requirement and prohibits school districts from starting school in July, is called the A++ Plan for Education because evidently, when you're the governor, you get to grade yourself ahead of time rather than waiting for test results that might have been graded by the less-than-qualified.

"Not all students are the same," the governor was quoted as saying in an Associated Press story, when he signed the bill in Davie. "Some struggle with certain subjects while others excel. Our education system should not be a one size fits all system for every student but should adapt to meet the needs of each student."

Sounds pretty good. Meeting the individual needs of students and allowing them to concentrate on subjects they enjoy might very well help them make it to the Pomp and Circumstance walk.

But policy seems to contradict the governor's good intentions.

There is, after all, the FCAT, which seems to be a one-size-fits-all standardized test that deems whether a student gets his or her high school diploma.

The spectrum narrows greatly for those who don't pass the reading portion in high school. Those students, who also are at greater risk for dropping out, are required to take intensive reading classes. Florida does not fund a seven-period school day for secondary schools like many other states, so intensive reading classes often replace those enjoyable elective classes that are supposed to help kids figure out what they want to be some day.

Then there's all that wrestling the governor's been doing over the class size amendment that could actually help teachers meet the individual needs of students.

Add to that the research that shows adolescents just might not be capable of realizing how the "major" decisions they make now will impact their future.

Scientists who have studied MRI images of teenage brains have discovered that the frontal lobes - the part of the brain that controls impulsive behavior or makes us think about the consequences of our decisions - aren't fully developed.

Those of us who have looked back at the antics of our own youth and thought, "We were that young and foolish?" or ever asked a teenager incredulously, "What were you thinking?" already know that.

It's why they aren't allowed to vote, get tattoos or enlist in the military until they're 18 or drink alcohol until they're 21. It's why some argue against the death penalty for minors who commit murder; why their automobile insurance rates are so high; why some states are considering raising the driving age, citing statistics that show teenagers are at least three times more likely to die in an automobile accident than adults.

It's the reason some us put down our foot and tell our teenagers "No, you can't," or throw our hands up and remind ourselves, "Kids will be kids."

Why, then, can't we just let high school be high school?

Michele Miller can be reached in west Pasco at 727 869-6251, toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6251, or miller@sptimes.com.