If you just listened to the mantra repeated so often by business chieftains, you would believe public schools should teach math and science and almost nothing else. It’s the only way to keep up with the rest of the world, they say, because we’re losing the technical war and, thus, our way of life. If you believe these corporate Cassandras, we should be rocking our children to sleep at night with the Pythagorean Theorem instead of Curious George. No one is saying students shouldn’t be proficient in those subjects. Higher-level math helps develop logical thinking (which probably explains why I had so much trouble with it), and a basic knowledge of science would have come in handy for the politicians in St. Petersburg who voted to end fluoridation of the city’s drinking water. It’s also a fact, though, that thousands of recent college graduates — finally trained in demanding math and science courses — are underemployed, if they can find a job at all. They lack specific skills employers need. So given that, I’ll offer a tip of the cap to the Florida Legislature for the Career and Professional Education Act (CAPE).
The bill, approved by the House and Senate, is on Gov. Rick Scott’s desk and should soon be law in our state. It expands opportunities for career and technical courses in Florida high schools and colleges. It’s a pet project of Senate President Don Gaetz, who said in a release that the bill “is a response to the growing disconnect between our educational system and the realities and opportunities in the economy.” Gaetz helped start a similar program when he was superintendent of schools in Okaloosa County. It helped dramatically reduce one of the state’s highest dropout rates. “He looked for reasons why students drop out,” Gaetz spokeswoman Katie Betta said. “He looked for ways to keep students engaged.” Hillsborough County high schools already offer a wide range of vocational programs for students who might not be interested in college, allowing students to head into the job market with industry certification. Other parts of the state have some catching up to do, though. “We like this,” Hillsborough schools spokesman Stephen Hegarty said. “It offers different paths to graduation. We are big on industry certification. Our big concern was to make sure the requirements for technical training were no less rigorous than for college preparatory, and the Legislature listened to us.” This won’t solve every problem for every student, but it seems like it could be a viable option for many. We need mathematicians and scientists, but we also need well-trained people to work on cars or learn the basics of construction. As Gaetz said, it’s not just about “chalkboard academics.” Every person is wired differently and the traditional college path doesn’t work for every student. That shouldn’t lead to a life of economic struggle. With training, the market offers opportunities for those who go down a different road. When it comes to learning, one size doesn’t fit all.