Putting Education Reform To The Test

Q&A With Florida Teacher’s Union President Andy Ford

NEA Public Relations/flickr

FEA President Andy Ford

Gov. Rick Scott’s announcement that education is his priority moving forward got the attention of the Florida Education Association (FEA).

FEA President Andy Ford had dinner with Scott last week and is talking about why he thinks the governor is now so focused on improving education in Florida.

Q: How did your dinner with Gov. Scott come about?

A: The governor reached out. His chief of staff called and asked for a meeting and wanted to do it Friday at the mansion.

He wanted a few local leaders with me, so there were a total of six of us from FEA plus the interim commissioner (Education Commissioner Pam Stewart) and Mrs. Scott.

Q: What did the Governor’s Mansion serve for dinner?

A: Grouper. It was very good. And he told us a lot about the mansion. We got a little tour. They’ve been going through renovations, and they made sure to continually press upon us that it was all private funding to restore the mansion.

Q: The governor has announced he’s creating a superintendent’s group to try to cut down on all the red tape facing teachers and administrators. Did you have anything to do with that?

A: He had a meeting with the superintendents association, the school boards association, and the PTA at each one of the cities he went to on the listening tour, so it probably came out of that. He didn’t mention that to us, although we did talk about the stresses that teachers were under.

Q: He told reporters this week that education is now his priority. He’s looking at it from the standpoint that you need a strong education system to boost job creation. What do you make of this turnaround by the governor to put education first?

A: If we’re going to have movement away from a tourist and minimum wage job market, you’re going have to have high quality schools, and I think he sees that.

What we went through last spring with the school grades, the school cut scores on the FCAT writing and things like that, and the frustration that parents voiced — I think that’s probably what captured his attention.

We did spend a lot of time talking about testing, teacher evaluations and how some of the laws that have been passed just don’t make sense when you try to lay it onto a calendar that matches the school year. And he did seem genuinely concerned.

Q: What else did you talk about at the dinner?

A: We talked about funding and the fact that things have been eliminated. He stressed that he went to public schools and having grown up poor – very poor – that he wouldn’t have had the ability to be where he is today if it weren’t for good public schools and caring teachers.

Q: Where do you and Gov. Scott continue to differ on the issues?

A: Well, I think you’re not changing the world in one dinner. But unless you sit down and start talking, you have no chance of changing the world.

Public schools are the key to the success of kids, but also the success of the governor.

You can’t be successful and create jobs if you don’t really have an investment in public schools, and it has to be traditional public schools. He did say he believes in choice, and it’s just how you define that choice that we have to work on.

Q: In your discussion regarding choice and traditional schools, does that mean you don’t want any money going to charter schools?

A: There are two types of charters:  the corporate charters and what I refer to as the Mom and Pop charters — a group of people get together and they want to do experiments and see if they can teach kids better.

It may be a group of teachers within a school that want to do that, or it could be teachers with parents that want to do that.

Our difficulty comes in when it’s a corporation that’s coming in and is going to make a profit off of educating children. They do that in a variety of ways…which is just a use of taxpayer dollars to be diverted into a business enterprise.

If Amendment 8 passes, it’s sending money without the accountability system that the traditional public schools have.

These schools would not necessarily give the FCAT. We would not know how their students are scoring; whether they really are teaching the courses that they’re supposed to be teaching and whether their teachers are certified or not.

All those things do play into how you go about trying to make profit off of teaching kids.

Q: Have you seen the movie “Won’t Back Down?”

A: No, but I’ve seen the commercials for the movie. I think one thing that people need to remember and what the supporters of vouchers and charters are not going to tell people is that it’s fiction.

I don’t know a teacher that wouldn’t agree with the fact that they want to fight for kids, and this movie from what I understand and what I’ve read about it tries to portray teachers in the worst possible light.

It’s fiction, and it’s taking things to the extreme.


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