Joanne McCall, president of the Florida Education Association, speaks with WLRN and State Impact Florida's Luis Hernandez.
McCall: There are at least fourteen bills floating out there that in some form or fashion add to the current school day, not extending the day but add something to a teacher's actual workload of what they have to teach or do, and when you look at all of those things independently they're not bad ideas. But, when you're adding them all together on stuff that you already have to do, something has to come off the plate in order to make that work. And at some point legislators need to ask educators what's best for their students.
Hernandez: Let's talk about testing because it's obviously a popular topic. We're dealing with Florida standards as the new system statewide. What are the biggest concerns teachers have about this system what we're doing and just testing in general?
McCall: Well, testing is out of control and what we like to say is we're not opposed to testing, heck, teachers invented testing. But the way that we are making it an all-or-nothing in the FSA testing and the former FCAT system isn't good for kids and it's not good for schools and we're worried about this almighty test.
At the end of the year from March until May it's testing season in some form or fashion. And the kids are losing two months worth of teacher time that they could be educated in other things. We're all so worried about this FSA and it's not fair to the kids. It's not fair to the schools. It's not fair to the parents because what we're doing is we're robbing the kids of a good quality education because we're only concerned about making sure they pass this one test.
Hernandez: There was another rally in Tallahassee, this one having to do with the state voucher system and that again is the system that allows some students to use scholarship, some of it is state funded, some of it corporate donations to attend private schools religious schools. The folks who were at in Tallahassee protesting are basically asking the association to drop its lawsuit against the state on this. What do you say to those parents?
McCall: That's not going to happen. This is what I say to the people that orchestrated that (protest), many of the people that came and spoke at the rally are ministers or bishops who are benefiting financially from those children coming to their church schools. We believe it's unconstitutional because in the Constitution, in the Florida Constitution, it says it is a paramount duty of the Florida legislature to provide a free high quality uniform public education system, not a parallel system, not a for-profit system, but a uniform public school system.
They are taking the resources that really belong in the general revenue to be distributed for education to these for-profit schools. Here's our concern with for-profit schools: they don't teach the same standards. They don't have the same rules. They don't have to give the same steps or accountability, yet they get all of this money with no accountability. Their teachers do not have to be certified and the schools don't have to be accredited.
Hernandez: I mentioned earlier that teacher certificate applications in the state have dropped in recent years. In Broward and Palm Beach counties, we're dealing with teacher shortages. And you mentioned just a little while ago, sometimes they’re (teachers) just leaving as soon as they can, so in this environment how do you convince a teacher to stay in the field?
McCall: It's tough, it's really tough. We do not have people that want to come to the state, they want to go to a state where they're valued. The system we have in place is one where your pay is judged whether you can advance on the pay scale by your test scores. You're an annual contract teacher if you're coming now so you have no security.
It's high stress. We have a lot of teachers that say it's the highest stress level that they've ever had. We just did a stress survey of our members asking them is their stress better or worse, and it's off the charts. And we also asked them would they stay. And we also asked them where they see themselves in five years. Many of them that were at retirement age said to be retired. Many of them said they would leave the profession. So it's a huge problem that this state has created.