Who should be the primary beneficiary of the work of the public schools? The students, or Florida’s businesses?

The primary mission of Florida’s public schools at all levels is to prepare the state’s students for the new economy.

It seems to me that should be self-evident.  When our students earn their terminal degrees, whether at the high school, bachelor’s degree, master’s degree or doctoral level, they should have some great opportunities, both economic and non-economic.  Whether those opportunities are in Florida or elsewhere shouldn’t matter – what should matter is that we give our kids the best possible chance to succeed in a world that’s considerably more hostile in an economic sense than the one into which us old folks graduated.

But it’s not clear that everybody agrees with that mission statement.  Consider the December 28 op-ed by STEMFlorida President Jimmie Davis in the Tallahassee Democrat:

I volunteer as president of the demand-driven board of STEMflorida Inc., which is ensuring that pathways are in place for:

• STEM companies and employers to influence how the demand for STEM talent is filled.

• Regions to access critical partnerships and resources.

• Learners and parents to identify the right internship, externship or apprenticeship opportunities to explore STEM careers.

• Employers to reach emerging thinkers and workers…

…Florida’s STEM movement is making sure that efforts in STEM are in the context of the actual needs of the market.

A bold effort has been made to impact the STEM talent supply chain and better define STEM occupations and STEM industries. With support from Workforce Florida Inc., STEMflorida is leading the development of a STEM Jobs Index, a definition of STEM in the context of the customers (STEM-enabled employers) who ultimately draw upon Florida’s talent. Input from regional economic development organizations and leaders in education and workforce are helping to inform responsiveness to STEM-enabled employers across the state.

The results of the STEM Index and a summarizing gap analysis — to be published early next year — promise to inform Florida’s Talent Supply Chain Team, and provide insights into how greater efficiencies can be targeted at Florida’s educational and talent development pipeline in the context of the existing, evolving, and emerging STEM industries and occupations.

From the very beginning, STEMflorida, along with a host of well-respected and dedicated “evangelists” who advanced the STEM movement in our state, have understood the importance of a STEM-enabled employer. Without the voice of industry, Florida will struggle in the 21st century marketplace, and its lack of a STEM-proficient workforce will continue to be a competitive disadvantage. Without input from STEM employers, our efforts will not align with the demand of the marketplace.

So what is Dr. Davis saying?  Is he saying our schools have a responsibility to limit our students’ opportunities to those offered by companies already in Florida? 

What a shame that would be.

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