As They Already Do in Florida, More Families Are Going to Embrace School Choice, Personalized Instruction Post-Pandemic
Every year, my wife and I take our three youngest children away from our home in Miami for a few months while I focus on my part-time job, which is located hundreds of miles away. This job is something I truly enjoy as it allows me to utilize my experience as a public school teacher and assistant principal.
This year, like many others in the past, we returned to Miami in March after completing my work, and our children immediately resumed their normal education routine. However, our "normal" was anything but ordinary as the rest of the nation and the world were adapting to the COVID-19 crisis. For most families, there was no sense of normalcy, and it may take some time for things to return to normal.
As a state senator, my part-time job entails traveling to Tallahassee for our annual two-month legislative session. Being a parent, educator, and lawmaker has given me a unique perspective on K-12 education.
When we eventually overcome this challenging period in our lives, I am confident that our education system will evolve and develop into one that truly prioritizes the needs of students.
I have always been an advocate for what is often referred to as education reform. I have consistently pushed for expanded school choice for students and the restructuring of our system so that student performance determines their educational path, rather than relying on an outdated 180-day schedule.
My passion for education stems from my own personal experiences. I attended public schools in Hialeah, Florida, and at the age of 21, I returned to Hialeah to teach various subjects such as world history, government and economics, and honors social studies. By the time I was 26, I had become an assistant principal. This role opened my eyes to the intricate workings and details required to effectively run a school, whereas previously, as a teacher, I had only been aware of what occurred within the four walls of a classroom.
During my time as an assistant principal, I became acutely aware of the systemic barriers inherent in our 19th-century education model that struggled to meet the needs of the 21st century. Despite the best efforts of teachers and administrators, this outdated model treated students as a collective group rather than individuals with unique strengths and requirements.
For far too long, this model has been the only option available. With no competition, there was no urgency to ensure the quality of education provided.
The schools where I taught served a diverse community, including many students from low-income backgrounds whose parents had recently immigrated to the country. Witnessing the level of faith and trust these students and their families placed in the education system was a powerful reminder of how detrimental it was to treat all students as a homogeneous group.
I have three school-age children, aged 7, 6, and 4. Each of them has had the opportunity to experience education through public charter schools, private schools, and virtual schooling. Upon our return from Tallahassee this year, they seamlessly transitioned into the new normal. The only difference was that they eagerly connected with their friends through Zoom instead of seeing them in person.
I have long been an advocate for Florida Virtual School (FLVS), which has been a lifeline for countless students in Florida and across the country this year. Established in 1996, FLVS was the first statewide virtual school and has since grown to serve over 215,000 students.
When the pandemic forced the closure of schools nationwide, we quickly expanded the capacity of FLVS. As a result, we are now able to accommodate over 2.7 million students from around the world. In March, Alaska officials even enlisted FLVS to provide classes for their students, ensuring that they could continue learning despite the challenges faced by their large and rural state.
In Florida, we have consistently advocated for a more diverse and personalized education system. Parents and students have come to expect this level of choice and flexibility. With over 40 percent of students attending a school other than their geographic assignment, Florida leads the nation in school choice opportunities.
Competency-based learning, which allows students to progress as they learn instead of adhering to strict timetables, is another area where Florida excels. These concepts may sound abstract, but they are genuinely transforming the way millions of students in Florida learn. As I witness my own children adapt to this blended learning approach with ease, I believe that more and more families will choose this path. Many parents will realize that this approach is effective and conducive to success, especially if they have the option to work from home.
While the safety of our children and families is currently our top priority, we will emerge from this challenge with a fresh perspective on the multitude of ways our students can learn and prepare for success in both school and life.
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