South Florida high school students with less-than-stellar grades have a new alternative for getting their high school diploma without attending a single class:
Struggling Miami-Dade high school students have bypassed the state's graduation exam by enrolling in a strip-mall private school that promises diplomas in as little as 48 hours, a Herald investigation has found.There is much more to read in the whole article.
Many of the students who attended American Academy High School Corp. were guided there by Miami-Dade school system employees, including the head football coach at Booker T. Washington Senior High and a state senator who runs the district's 5000 Role Models mentoring program.
Sen. Frederica Wilson, a former School Board member, said she has even paid the tuition for about 15 teenagers to get diplomas at American Academy. Wilson said the students, like many who have attended American, repeatedly had failed the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, which they must pass to earn a state-issued diploma.
With their American Academy diplomas, students have been able to land jobs, win athletic scholarships and enroll in colleges, including Miami Dade College and Florida International University.
Without those diplomas, Wilson said, many of them would have few options and could end up in prison.
''We can either let them get a diploma and get a job at UPS or the Omni hotel or as a security guard . . . or we can let them walk around, rob you and me, and sell drugs to our children,'' Wilson said.
Other educators worry that schools such as American Academy offer students false hope and could set them up for failure in college or career.
''They are basically high school mills and deceive kids into believing that they have something that they may not,'' said Miami-Dade Superintendent Rudy Crew. He added that the district provides extra tutoring and other services to help all students pass the FCAT.
When the test became a graduation requirement in 2003, it created a fresh market for private schools -- some of which exist solely on the Internet -- selling quick high school diplomas that don't require passing the state test.
''This FCAT situation is stalling some students,'' said Sorgalim Sin Barzaga, American Academy's executive director. "The main purpose is to assist students not being on the welfare rolls.''
Private schools are almost entirely unregulated under Florida law. They do not use the FCAT. They are not required to hire certified teachers. They do not need to follow state standards for textbooks or curriculum.
They do, however, issue their own diplomas based on their own criteria.
''Every student is a self-paced student,'' Barzaga said of American Academy.
Most American Academy students never come to the school, situated above a Pizza Hut and a check-cashing store in a Perrine shopping center at 19151 S. Dixie Hwy.
''Cut the classes and homework,'' American Academy's website entices. "Take the TEST.''
The school's website promises diplomas in as little as 48 hours by taking a $560 online test. About 75 current students participate entirely via the Internet, Barzaga said.
''We are the pioneers of the accelerated high school diploma in the state of Florida,'' said Barzaga, who said the school has had about 6,000 graduates since opening in 1999.
Besides the online students, 20 to 30 others attend daily classes. Most graduate within three months, Barzaga said, and pay about $875. They attend class for a few hours a day, with Fridays off, but spend most of their time working independently. On average, Barzaga said, they spend about an hour a day interacting with a teacher.
Any school board member, educator, or parent who would "help" a student by referring him or her to such a