Five minutes with Andy Ford, where the FEA Chief suggests respect could go a long way to getting teachers and lawmakers on the same page:
Q: The FEA has been challenging in court for at least the past 15 years education policy decisions made by the Legislature. What would a truce to the legal wrangling look like – where the teacher’s association and lawmakers are no longer bickering?
Ford: “I think by having better government that would lend us not necessarily going to court as an option. We testify a lot of times to people who are not even paying attention. They are reading other things while we are up there. They are talking to one another. They are in the back getting coffee while people are trying to lay out a vision and a way to achieve what the legislature wants.
“And we’ve been ignored.
“If we had a level playing field, where the Senators and Representatives actually wanted to hear from the public and wanted to listen and gain their input and then craft a piece of legislation that is based on the input and everybody’s good ideas, I think that would be a way of saying, ‘Hey we were heard, we didn’t necessarily get it. We’re not going to go to court. ‘
“If you look back at Race to the Top, the good, the bad, the indifferent, former Gov. Crist did a good thing by bringing all of the stakeholders together. He locked us in the basement for 12 hours and wouldn’t let us out until we actually came up with a plan and we developed a plan within 12 hours that everybody in that room might not have loved, but we all bought into it.
“Those are the kinds of things that would prevent us from going to the third branch of government.”
Q: Do you find it ironic in a call for a pause in testing that it appears teachers are arguing against administering tests?
Ford: “Teachers aren’t arguing against testing in general, it is how the tests are being used. In this situation where we are going from one version of testing to another, we’re just asking for a break. Let’s see what we are asking kids to perform on is valid before we make life altering decisions.
“So we are not opposed to testing by any stretch of the imagination. It is the volume and how disruptive it is. And right now, quite frankly lets not have the consequences kick in and retain a kid who should not be retained or promote a kid who should not be promoted.”
Q: What is the philosophical divide the FEA must bridge with the Legislature?
Ford: “What we are looking for is a form of accountability that informs parents that informs the public, informs the teacher and informs the student of how they are performing.
“We don’t have a problem with being accountable. We have a problem with being unfairly being held accountable. And that’s something that needs serious examination.
Q: What misconception do you think exists in the public’s mind about the Florida Education Association?
Ford: “You have to look at the public versus the legislature. In the public’s mind, I think the majority of the people see us standing up for what we believe. Standing up for what we believe is in the best interest of students.
“In the legislature’s mind, I think it’s just trying to discredit us by saying we’re a special interest that only cares about the adults. There is nothing farthest from the truth.”
Q: Your fondest hope for the 2015 legislative session?
Ford: “That the legislature does hit the pause button on testing and the consequences of the testing until we figure it out. I think it is only fair to kids. “
Q: The biggest challenge you face in the 2015 legislative session?
Ford: “Maneuvering through the political nightmare that exists because of all the different agendas and who is running for what in the future.
“That is even more prominent now than it has been.”