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16 Oct FROM EDUCATION TO EMPLOYMENT: MIAMI’S BIG OPPORTUNITY

As we work toward becoming a global hub for opportunity, Miami needs to double down on its education system.  Education attainment has a direct correlation with employment rates and the quality of our schools is a core factor for developing, attracting and retaining quality talent in our city.  Thankfully, Miami refuses to allow the typical “barriers” to lower our collective expectations of our students.   High levels of poverty, high volume of students transitioning in and out of schools and a high number of second language learners would typically translate into lowered expectations and, consequently, low results. Yet Miami boasts some of the most impressive progress in the nation.

We are the winners of the 2012 Broad Prize for Urban Education for narrowing our achievement gap faster than the rest of the country.  We lead the nation in student participation and performance on AP exams.  We are home to the nationalSuperintendent of the Year.  Our city passed a $1.2 billion bond to modernize and advance the technology of our schools.  Our State Board of Education just recommended significant increase to the educational budget, including the highest amount of per-pupil funding in Florida’s history.  We have come a long way, and it’s time for our reputation to catch up with our performance.

But instead of breaking out the champagne glasses, we must remain focused on constant and rapid improvement.  Income levels still largely dictate the access children have to an excellent education. And although school grades have risen dramatically, reading proficiency rates for low-income students remain unacceptably low. As our graduation rates rise, our local colleges are still sharing the feedback that students arrive unready.  We must hear this feedback and continue to pour resources and strategies into improvements where they are needed most.

With the adoption of a new set of Florida Standards that are more rigorous and rich than ever before and new assessments to match our new bar of excellence, educators and students face new challenges and opportunities this year. The stakes are high as school grades motivate our school communities, and student performance is factored into teacher evaluations and compensation.   As our teachers and students stretch to reach the new bar, we must stand beside them as partners, leveraging data as a tool for improvement and not as a weapon for critique.

As we continue to pursue excellence for every child in Miami, there are several core initiatives worth paying attention to.  Our superintendent is championing a massive effort to close the digital divide in our schools.  Many local educational leaders are stressing the value of early childhood education and the urgency for us to ensure that all of our early childhood centers are of strong quality. We must stand behind them and find the resources to enable their visions to come to life.

Most importantly, we must all consider ourselves responsible for the success of our local education system. Miami’s students and educators are setting new standards for what is possible, and will continue to lead the nation in closing the achievement gap, but the road ahead will require relentlessly high expectations, excellent leadership at every level, and a commitment to every child, not just our own.

Rebecca Fishman Lipsey is a member of the Florida Board of Education.

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