Around 2,000 teachers descended in full force upon Tallahassee to protest and demand change within the state’s education system on Thursday.
The sounds of their footsteps filled the air as they marched to the Capitol Courtyard. They held their hands in the air, waving signs, some of which were homemade.
They chanted “Enough is Enough!” -- a message to state lawmakers and the Florida Department of Education that they’re fed up with high-stakes testing and voucher schools.
The rally, organized by the Florida Education Association, was a symbol of a growing dissatisfaction against a controversial testing program in the Sunshine State.
“Our children are being cheated out of a good education by policy makers and education reforms that are designed to meet the needs of adults rather than the needs of our children,” read the event flyer.
Teachers decried an education system they say is not based on the student, but rather on a faulty testing program which does not allow Florida’s public school students to actually learn.
“Let them hear you all through these halls,” FEA President Joanne McCall, who said no state lawmakers had been invited to the two-hour rally which gathered teachers from all over the state, from Miami-Dade to Pinellas County.
Kali Davis, a former teacher and literacy coach at Melrose Elementary School in St. Petersburg, told Sunshine State News students needed to be the primary concern in the state’s education system.
“I think our biggest message is just really enough is enough and it’s time to stop picking on education and putting our students first,” she told SSN. “That means valuing our education...and really thinking about what’s best for kids and how we give them the best chance for being successful.”
Davis, like many other educators in the Sunshine State, said Florida’s accountability system is in need of serious work. The most fundamental problem, say concerned teachers, is that students are simply being taught to a test rather than being engaged in an active learning system which will teach them fundamental skills for the classroom and beyond.
Their criticisms of standardized testing have been echoed by many parent groups in Florida, who have expressed the desire to opt their children out of the state’s new Florida Standards Assessment entirely. Currently, at least 95 percent of Florida’s students must participate in the state’s standardized testing process to advance to the next grade level.
“School is no longer a place where children feel emotionally safe,” wrote the Opt Out Florida Network in a recent blog post. They don’t feel safe being curious, creative, or daring. Failing, instead of being an opportunity to learn what doesn’t work, opening a window to other possibilities, has become a label to be feared and dreaded, because there is too much at stake to allow children to fail at anything anymore.”
Opt out protesters in Tallahassee said they would continue to opt out of standardized testing until they could vote out the governor and state lawmakers who kept supporting the state’s test-based education system.
Teachers said that even though they don’t support high-stakes testing requirements, it didn’t mean they were shying away from keeping schools, teachers and students accountable.
“Accountability isn’t wrong, but it’s not the end all be all,” Kali Davis told SSN. “An alternative could be other [testing] measures and not making it so high-stakes to where third graders know what they do on this one day or six days that that decides their future.”
Testing wasn’t the only issue educators tackled at the rally. Educators also addressed teacher pay and the state’s voucher program, which allows thousands of low-income students to attend charter schools. Teachers said they weren’t being paid enough for their work, despite record funding in the state’s education budget.
“Teachers’ working conditions are our students' learning conditions,” said Luke Flynt, FEA Secretary.
Teachers won’t be the only ones heading to Tallahassee to rally on education issues. School choice supporters plan to hold a civil rights/education rally at the state’s capital next week.