Dr. Ed Moore: The Future of Education Will Be About Choice

This article is the third in a series.

In the prior two parts of this prescriptive series on educational reform, I spoke to the growing options available to parents and students across our state. Over the past several decades, we have gone from a tri-partite system of public, parochial, and private school options where if you chose public, you went to the closest school assigned to your neighborhood. Florida developed a public version that is largely online, the Florida Virtual School. This option became more frequently used as some public systems shut down due to COVID.

Laws changed and as time passed, students were not restricted to the closest public school anymore. They can enroll anywhere there is room, which is handy for those seeking more developed programs in the arts, sciences, or sports. Over the past several years, the state created special scholarships for students with special needs, which can be used as needed and chosen by families and additional choice options for students stuck in underperforming schools. In many counties, there may be only one elementary, middle and high school, sometimes graded as F schools, which in the past trapped students to attend only those schools. Students can now cross county boundaries to escape that past restriction.

Florida has seen a continued expansion of the availability of charter schools as an option. Charters are still public schools but have special provisions for programming and governance. Public funds, most but not all, follow the students to fund their educations. Part of the appeal of these schools has been driven in part by parental choice and parental engagement in both programs and operations. It seems that when parents get more involved, then students do better.

Even the CDC, in a study of parental engagement, found:

Research shows that parent engagement in schools is closely linked to better student behavior, higher academic achievement, and enhanced social skills.

Parent engagement also makes it more likely that children and adolescents will avoid unhealthy behaviors, such as sexual risk behaviors and substance use.

Within the realm of public school options, there remains a need for greater investment in career training through programs that allow students to enter the workforce directly from high school with the requisite skills necessary for occupations that are more technical. This might sound odd coming from someone who has spent so many years in higher education, but it is true that students need to understand the growing career options that may not require college degrees. However, I would still advocate for students taking post-secondary coursework, especially in business fields. It is one thing to have the skills needed to enter apprentice programs, for example, in HVAC or Electricians programs, but knowing how to run a business is far different than staying an electrician all their lives. With experience comes ambition for many. Being an entrepreneur is part of the American dream, but functioning successfully as an entrepreneur takes business skills too. With advancements in technical fields, there will always be a need to re-enter school programs too. Most of our systems are designed for traditional student choices, yet far more high school graduates enter the workforce upon graduation from high school than go directly to some form of post-secondary education. It is important to note that the schools within the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida (private not-for-profit) and the Florida College System (formerly community colleges), all have significant numbers of non-traditional students who returned to finish degrees, add new skills, or take required course tracks for their respective fields. As stated earlier in this series, those in the modern workforce must be prepared to continue their educations as they age. The world changes too fast and when information doubles every twelve hours, if you stay in place you fall behind.

Career counseling is in need of expansion. Over the past couple of decades, the role of guidance counselors in our high schools has focused more on testing, college placement efforts and as sources of information and assistance in compiling college applications. This is an area where the state needs to bolster the number of counselors. Counselors can provide students with information regarding all kinds of options. While we need higher numbers of students entering colleges and completing degrees, a simple workforce analysis provided by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity will show just how many openings there are in many critical fields. We need technicians of all kinds, our allied medical fields are always in need of workers, and as we grow exponentially in the IT world, we need ever more employees with the skills to both keep our systems running and prevent the cyber-attacks pervasive in every field. Talk to any utility company and ask how many cyber-attacks occur daily. Do the same with hospital systems or any other field that requires an intensive online presence. Skilled workers are badly needed.

Technology is transforming education and the workplace. Technology will likely eliminate a significant number of today’s jobs in the upcoming years. Census estimates predict that Florida will welcome more than four million new residents by 2030. These two anticipated changes will trigger massive retraining and educational assignments for our schools. There are on-site and online courses and degree or certificate programs, offering career pathways that current and future students can choose.

Our higher education institutions are increasingly competing to enroll both traditional and working adult students. We will gain more efficiencies in using these new tools if we begin to think of alternatives to the traditional school agrarian calendars with students tied to classroom seats, and funding models needing changes since our current models fund schools based on how it has been done, but not necessarily, on how it could be done. What is not abundant is counseling to help Floridians decode their options and make their best choices. Florida’s students are making career and college decisions right now. We know they will likely have several different careers as they age, but starting them out on a clear path should be more effective. This includes revising what it means to be a teacher, how we recruit and retain teachers, and how to make the teaching profession an attractive career path for middle and high school students of today.

Adults in the workforce are returning to colleges and universities to retrain and complete their degree work. Wrong decisions waste student, school, college and university, and taxpayer resources. A statewide campaign to equip counselors and coaches to help every motivated Floridian choose their educational or retraining pathway is essential. A statewide education and career counseling work group of education, employer, community, and foundation leaders can focus on expanding what must be done.

Just like a student, our society falls behind just by staying in place. Our futures will be determined by our ambitions. Our success will be defined by our willingness to embrace systemic changes, which are created after a detailed review. We must be better than we are doing now as we risk falling further behind in a highly competitive world.

This is the third article in a series which is taken in part from a piece this author wrote for the Journal of the James Madison Institute published in Fall‭ 2022.

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