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Florida business group calls for teacher raises, more technical schools

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By John Haughey | The Center Square

The Florida Council of 100’s ‘Horizons 2040 Project: Grades PreK- 12’ includes nine recommendations – or “beacons” – to boost education in Florida over the next 20 years.

Formed in 1961, The Florida Council of 100 is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization of business leaders that includes representatives of more than 100 companies with more than a half a million employees,

“As business leaders, we know that education is the building block of prosperity,’’ Florida Council’s K-12 Education Committee Chairman John Kirtley said. “We want to ensure every student in Florida gets the education that prepares them for success for years to come.’’

In a statement accompanying the report, the council said, “Florida’s quality of education has improved steadily over the past 15 years, as shown by rising test scores and skyrocketing graduation rates,” referring to the state’s 86.1 percent high school graduation rate.

The purpose of the 20-year “Horizon 2040” project is to prepare the ground for lawmakers, Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney Rhea Law said.

“We realized the need for a long-term approach that builds on the state’s five-year strategic plan,’’ she said. “If we follow this blueprint, Florida will lead the nation in creating successful students equipped for life.’’

The report is the outcome of three years of work and visits to public and private schools statewide to learn the best educational practices, the Council said. Among its recommendations:

• Support teachers in meaningful ways.

“In addition to increasing teachers’ salaries so they’re competitive with those of other highly valued professions, Florida schools should devise ways to create an environment where teachers feel they have a voice and are part of a team,” the report states.

“After effective parenting, the main determinant of student success is having an outstanding teacher,” the council said in its statement. “Yet average teacher pay in Florida is ranked 46th in the nation, and only about half of Florida teachers feel supported and encouraged. The report (stresses) the need for higher pay to recruit and retain the best and brightest teachers.”

• Empower students to succeed.

This report says this includes teaching students life skills such as better decision-making and goal-setting; requiring school districts to offer options like career and technical schools; and creating “a rigorous academic program that stretches students while providing a safe environment – a second “home” for learning – in which students aren’t afraid to fail.”

• Stay committed to high-quality standards.

This includes “demanding strong accountability and rigorous but appropriate assessments of students, teachers and schools”; providing teachers and administrators with additional and ongoing training; and making teacher evaluations objective and related to student performance.

“Core academic areas like reading, math and science are absolutely vital,” said David Dyer, former president and CEO of Chico’s FAS and the chair of the committee which handled much of the report.

“But schools also must provide students with important life skills so they can become successful, productive citizens,” he added.

Only about half of Florida’s voluntary Pre-K students are “test-ready” for kindergarten, the report states, noting research shows children who can’t read proficiently by grade 4 are four times more likely to eventually drop out of high school.

“Expanding Pre-K to all-day or summer for struggling students and ensuring their social-emotional health needs are met are two ways to help these students succeed,” it recommends.

• Allow schools to practice mastery-based education.

Under this approach, the report said, students have the opportunity to learn at their own pace, progressing when they are ready.

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