From pre-K through college, Florida is committed to preparing students for 21st-century opportunities.
The effort to push for higher standards and greater accountability in Florida's pub lic schools that began in 1999 with the "A+ Plan," has been broadened and refined in order to address the needs of students, parents, businesses and a changing economy. Tougher math requirements, earlier emphasis on career exploration and more opportunities for technical training are among the new initiatives that put Florida schools on the cutting edge of 21st century workforce education.
At every level--from pre-K through college--programs are in place to help build a stronger and better educated workforce for today and tomorrow.
A multi-tiered approach
National studies have long demonstrated the benefits of participation in early childhood education programs: higher test scores, higher high school graduation rates, higher earnings later in life. With that in mind, Florida became one of the first states to incorporate a voluntary pre-kindergarten (VPK) program into its statewide public school system.
In fall 2005, all four-year-olds in Florida became eligible to take part in a free VPK program. Parents choose from a list of public, private or faith-based providers that meet the state's standards for delivering the schoolyear program of 540 total instructional hours (300 hours for summer programs.)
Not only does the VPK program give preschoolers a jumpstart on basic skills, it benefits their working parents, too. Employers and employees alike enjoy peace of mind knowing that their youngsters are in a safe environment with structured learning activities provided free of charge for approximately three hours per weekday.
44% The increase in the number of students enrolled in AP courses in Florida's public schools over the last five years.
Florida's new "A++ Plan," which takes effect in fall 2007, mandates a public school curriculum that is aimed at educational excellence. A++ continues to build on the strides Florida schools have made toward improving reading at early ages with the creation of the Just Read, Florida! Office, charged with oversight of teacher training and the periodic review of standards for reading at all grade levels.
At the middle school level, A++ stipulates that promotion requirements include at least one highschool- level mathematics course, plus at least one course in career planning to be completed in the seventh or eighth grade.
At the high school level, as part of the 16 core curriculum credits required for graduation, students must earn four mathematics credits, one of which must be Algebra I or higher-level. In addition, students are required to earn another eight credits in elective courses, at least four of which must pertain to a major area of interest such as a career and technical program, fine and performing arts or academic content area. Beginning in 2011, when the first A++ students graduate, Florida high school diplomas will show a specific major, states Dr. Cheri Pierson Yecke, Florida's Chancellor of K-12 Public Schools.
"This is not a certificate of mastery," she says. Rather, it is a visible indication of a higher-thanaverage level of expertise in a particular subject or skill, such as culinary arts, communications or computer programming. The Florida Department of Education is developing templates for close to 80 different majors; individual school districts may choose from these or seek DOE approval for programs they develop on their own.
High school students may also take advantage of the training opportunities available at 47 public post-secondary technical education centers throughout the state of Florida. Dual enrollment programs allow a student to earn credit toward graduation from a local high school, along with certification from a technical center in specific workplace skills, such as welding, information technology or practical nursing.
"This is a great opportunity for students who are serious about working toward a particular career, but want more advanced training than what is available at their high schools," says Dr. Bonnie Marmor, Florida's Vice Chancellor for Workforce Education. "Some just prefer to do their skills training in an adult environment."
Many high schools also offer career academies. These are small, intensely personalized learning communities developed and designed to provide high school students with exposure to a particular career field. The students apply for and enter these academies on a purely voluntary basis with parental knowledge and support, then meet with a core group of teachers for several periods every day over a two-, three- or four-year span. The family-like atmosphere builds close student-teacher ties as they work together within a curriculum centered on a particular career theme.
The community college connection
Community colleges are a major component of Florida's career and technical education effort. They play an increasingly vital role in preparing young people for further education or to enter the workforce, as well as in retraining adults for the fastest growing jobs in Florida, many of which do not require four-year degrees. According to a report from Florida TaxWatch Center for Educational Performance and Accountability, public funding of community colleges more than pays for itself in resulting economic growth by a ratio of 13.3 to 1. What's more, Florida community college students enjoy a 34% return on investment compared to the national average of 25%.
The first Florida community college-- Palm Beach Junior College-- opened its doors in 1933. Today, Florida's Community College System consists of 28 schools where more than 800,000 students, most of them part-time with an average age of 27, are enrolled. Fulltime enrollment at Florida's community colleges is expected to top 320,000 students by 2007.
Florida community colleges offer close to 800 associate in arts and associate in science degrees and some 500 certificate programs; several even offer four-year degrees. While some students use the credits acquired at a community college as a stepping-stone for entering a four-year college or university, many more seek necessary skills and technical training for direct workforce application. Care is taken to ensure that the certificate programs offered by community colleges do not duplicate those at technical centers in the same area.
That's a definite plus for business, says F. Phillip Handy, chairman of the Florida Board of Education and the owner of a global manufacturing business. "I'm very sensitive to the importance of education in growing a business," he says. "In Florida, we don't try to impose a 'one-size-fits-all' in technical education. Every school district determines who oversees the public schools and the technical schools so there's a minimum of overlap."
Businesses are getting involved, too. Says Vice Chancellor Marmor, "There is no educational program in this state that doesn't put together members of the regional business community with educators to make sure that what's being taught is what's needed. As new companies move in, committees are formed to make sure they have the workforce education they need. We can do some quick response; create a new program if needed."
Public and private universities
Florida's educational profile includes 11 public universities, dozens of private colleges and universities and hundreds of technical institutions. The state has four major medical schools; a fifth, at University of Central Florida in Orlando, was approved by Gov. Jeb Bush in May 2006.
Florida's public universities, which are attended by nearly 280,000 students, awarded some 64,000 degrees in 2006. Another 120,000 students attend Florida's private, independent colleges and universities.
The 28 schools in the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida (ICUF) association are accredited, not-for-profit and Florida-based. With assets of more than $3 billion, they turn out 56% of the first professional degrees (doctors, lawyers, dentists, pharmacists, optometrists and podiatrists) awarded in Florida.
Of the 300,000- plus students enrolled per year at Florida's community colleges, 15,000 are in IT programs working toward associate degrees or baccalaureate credits.
These students at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale are among thousands enrolled at higher education institutions statewide who are learning high-tech skills they can bring to workplaces throughout Florida.
Research spending in 2005 topped $1.5 billion combined at 10 Florida public universities, plus the private University of Miami and Florida Institute of Technology, according to a survey by Florida State University. The 2005 poll further reveals that researchers submitted 687 invention disclosures, as compared to 616 in 2004 and received 132 U.S. patents, up from 127 the previous year. With licenses generating $427 million in revenue for these same universities since 2000, Florida continues to rank among the top five nationwide in university-generated licensing and royalty income.
"The range of choices in Florida makes us a state with real opportunities for both high school students and adults to pursue all kinds of career education," says Vice Chancellor Marmor. "Whether you're looking for a four-year degree, certification, short-term training or continuing education, we have all of the options for people who are just entering the workforce for the first time, upgrading their skills or changing fields."
Additional options are available at the career schools and nonpublic colleges that belong to the Florida Association of Postsecondary Schools and Colleges.
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