The Audacity of Economic Hope: What Florida needs to do to offer great opportunities to more children

As our society and its economy have become increasingly technological and globalized, many families have been left behind.  As a result, many parents and grandparents have little or no hope for the economic future of their children and grandchildren.

That reality was driven home on Tuesday night.

Now we need to focus on how to fix it.

What we are doing hasn’t worked.  We need to prepare each student for the most lucrative careers to which she or he can aspire.  Those careers almost universally require a high skill level in math, and often science.  “Just Read, Florida!” won’t cut it.

All of the students bound for four-year colleges right after high school – about the top third of high school grads – must be prepared to choose any college major available, especially the lucrative ones in engineering, the mathematical sciences and computing.  That means they should all take chemistry, physics, precalculus (and preferably calculus) and a programming course in high school.

The middle third should succeed in Algebra 2 so that they can go on to a two-year college and earn an associate of applied science degree in engineering technology or other STEM field.

The bottom third should be prepared through CTE (career and technical education) programs to immediately enter the STEM workforce after high school graduation.

Students may not choose these career paths, but they should at least have these choices available to them.  To have those choices, they must have math, science and technical skills.  And for students to learn those skills, they must have access to great teachers in those disciplines.

There are two primary obstacles to providing all students these opportunities.

The first is that Florida has to be willing to invest in attracting enough highly skilled teachers in math, science and technical subjects to reach every student.  Right now, we aren’t.  Instead, we are funding the bizarre Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program at the $49 million level.

The second is that many parents don’t presently understand why math, science and technical skills are important to their children’s futures.  We have to reach out to each parent – and yes those conversations work best when they are one-on-one – to talk about how their children just simply must learn things in high school (and before) that the parent never learned.  Those are tough conversations, since in many cases we are trying to talk parents into coaxing their own children into doing things the parents were afraid to do themselves.

Opening real economic opportunities to Florida’s children will go a long way toward healing the divide that came into focus on Tuesday.  It’s time to get started educating our children for those opportunities.

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