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Flagler’s Teachers Union President on FCAT, The GOP, and High-Stakes Misconceptions

| June 28, 2012

Jill Woolbright, a Bunnell Elementary teacher--and an inspiration to Jacob Oliva, the recently appointed deputy superintendent of Flagler schools--is a strong union advocate with a purpose. (© FlaglerLive)

Jill Woolbright, a Bunnell Elementary teacher–and an inspiration to Jacob Oliva, the recently appointed deputy superintendent of Flagler schools–is a strong teacher union advocate with a purpose. (© FlaglerLive)

I am a mother of two, a teacher, and the President of Flagler County Educators Association (FCEA).  More and more in the news media I am seeing articles and letters to the editor that have addressed high stakes testing and a few misnomers about unions.  Many of these recent articles and letters miss the mark and peddle half-truths on a number of key points.  As a teacher, I believe that knowledge and full understanding are empowering.  To that point, let me help fill in the rest of the story.

katie hansen fceaI have frequently said at school board meetings and in the media that high-stakes tests are an unnecessary stress for our students.   Teachers do not believe that one test on one day, less than 75 percent of the way through the school year, is an accurate measure of a student’s performance.  Don’t misinterpret my statements: I’m not saying that educators should not be held accountable. I just don’t believe that the current method of “accountability” is accurate or appropriate.  The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) is plagued with issues and errors, which you can easily find documented on numerous websites that research the validity of FCAT tests and other high-stakes tests.

Beyond errors and issues with the test itself is the time teachers and students must devote to testing.  While there is a place for some testing, students are not going to improve simply because we test them more.  The FCAT test itself can take up to eight hours or more to administer, taking up as many as nine school days to complete, not to mention FAIR testing, End of Course exams, and the plethora of other tests that our students are required to take over the course of a single school year.  Wouldn’t this time be better spent with teachers teaching and working with the students to deepen and strengthen their understanding of concepts?

Anti-union sentiments out there are plentiful.  I recently read an article that asserted three things that a union is “good for,” including: keeping incompetent employees working, securing raises for people who don’t deserve them, and raising money for Democrats.

Frankly, only a person who has never been a blue-collar worker where a union was involved would incorrectly assert those three “purposes.”  While unions do not keep “incompetent” workers from being fired, unions do work to ensure that every member has due process.  If an administrator or member of management finds an employee to be “incompetent,” then the union ensures that the process is followed through correctly.

Here in Flagler County, the teachers’ union has played an active role in the creation and implementation of Teacher Success Plans.  These plans are used to assist and coach teachers that are struggling and to help them improve for the benefit of our students.  If an administrator finds a teacher to be incompetent and the teacher does not improve with coaching and assistance—and that administrator correctly follows the process—there is nothing the union can or will do to keep that teacher in the classroom.  Members of FCEA are teachers and parents. We don’t want incompetent teachers in classrooms, teaching our past or future students, or our own children.

Unions negotiate salaries with management, and here in Flagler County we negotiate with the school district for salary steps or increases.  Any raise we agree to at the bargaining table must be approved by both the teachers and a majority of school board members. The agreed-upon raise is then awarded to all teachers, not just a select few, not just union members, let alone just to “those who don’t deserve it” as I’ve seen it asserted.


The Flagler County School Board in a recent vote unanimously approved the agreement on teacher pay.  Think big picture though. The board employs nearly 1,700 employees.  It is the by far the largest employer in Flagler County. We support the local economy.  We keep small businesses in business.  We help ensure that many other workers keep their jobs, simply because we are spending our hard-earned money in Flagler County.  Suggesting that teachers and educational professionals don’t deserve the salaries that the school board agrees to hurts not just our families, but also many, many more families and businesses throughout Flagler County.

As to the “purpose of a union”—that unions only contribute to the Democratic National Committee—I find myself once again wanting to do a bit of educating.  In the last two election cycles, the Florida Education Association (FEA), to which FCEA and other teacher unions across this state belong, contributed approximately $100,000 to republican candidates.

Contrary to the preconception that unions only support Democrats, unions prefer to align themselves with candidates that support the same educational issues that we do, regardless of which side of the aisle they are on.  And with Republicans being quoted as intending to raise and spend $1 billion (yes, with a b) on the 2012 elections, I’m not sure that any party or person should be pointing any fingers.

At the end of the day, I am proud to be a teacher and union member.  I know that I work hard to better the lives of my students, both in my role as teacher and as Union President.  I will continue to stand side-by-side with the other hard-working teachers and education professionals in Flagler County, my fellow union members, to continue to work to provide great public schools for every child in Flagler County.

Katie Hansen, a teacher at Indian Trails Middle School, is president of the Flagler County Educators Association. Reach her by email here.

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14 Responses for “Flagler’s Teachers Union President on FCAT, The GOP, and High-Stakes Misconceptions”

  1. Robert Lewis says:

    Don’t you know the unions are to blame for all the world problems?
    Hurricanes devastated Florida? Tornados touched down in the mid-west? World hunger? Whos fault?

    The Unions!!

    I remember the days when all the world problems were the fault of George W. Bush. Maybe it was George W. Bush and the unions that conspired together and created wild fires?

    In all seriousness, the Republican Party more specifically the Tea Party has taken their aggression out on public employees and the collective bargaining agreements set forth by union represenatives and politicians. The attack have been taken out on teachers, police officers and firefighters.

    I recently saw a picture on Facebook of a firefighters funeral and the caption read, “Overpaid firefighters, one day they will earn their pay”. That pretty much sums up the mentality if the far right and the tea party.

    Our economic decline is a result of a mismanaged banking industry. Our municipalities in bankruptcy is a result of a declining tax base, foreclosure rate, and politicians mismanaging money. So who does the Extreme right blame? The hardworking employees. The men and women who educate our children, patrol our streets and render us care.

    This extreme agenda is alive in Flagler County. You have the RRAFL who are the definition of extremism running candidates in every race. Their agenda is to purify the Republican Party and government of all liberal or liberal appearing employees. Sounds more like the red hunt for communism lead by Senator Joe McCarthy. You have county commissioners being threatened at meetings to support their agenda or face being unseated.

    Sadly one of these candidates is running for school board. I strongly suggest that the Teachers Union seek out the candidates running for office and be vigilant of the evil you have now and the evil you could have later. One of these candidates running is recieving all of her support from the extreme right, and her very candidacy is merely an attempt to capture power for their so-called group.

    I strongly encourage that all candidates be vetted and the union stand strong against candidates that support this extreme right agenda. It’s fine to support Republicans. But it is not fine to support a candidate who takes part in bashing public employees. Their position and their assault on hard working employees is an insult to the service that they provide.

    Continue to serve our children as they are the future. I will vote against any candidate who drinks the poison and bashes our public employees.

  2. Kip Durocher says:

    For several decades, at least since Nixon, the right has persuaded middle- and lower-income Americans to vote against their own economic self-interest, by diverting their attention to “values” issues such as affirmative action, abortion or the sanctity of the flag. Upending the old rule that people vote with their wallets, Republicans understood that cultural anxieties – artfully stoked – could shift voters’ allegiances, even if that came at those voters’ expense

    So in 2004, it was clearly in the interest of a coalminer in West Virginia or a manual worker in Ohio to vote Democratic: John Kerry’s plans on pensions, safety at work, healthcare and tax would have helped them. But those states backed George W Bush, partly through appeals to patriotism and, especially in Ohio, fear of gay 
    marriage.

       It argues that the Tea Party right has sought to channel Americans’ fury at the post-2008 economic crisis not at its rightful target – Wall Street – but at Washington, casting “big government” as the villain. If only Washington were less intrusive and cut red tape, if only it spent less, then all would be well. So it is that the man in the unemployment line ends up demanding action that helps not him, but the CEO on his yacht.

  3. Think first, act second says:

    May I do a little educating here, as the poster says. She states, incorrectly, this: “In the last two election cycles, the Florida Education Association (FEA), to which FCEA and other teacher unions across this state belong, contributed approximately $100,000 to republican candidates.” also “Contrary to the preconception that unions only support Democrats, unions prefer to align themselves with candidates that support the same educational issues that we do, regardless of which side of the aisle they are on. ”
    Actually that is not true, shame on a teacher for exaggerating. “FLORIDA EDUCATION ASSOCIATION
    Total Given from 2004 to 2012: $5,683,119 (416 records) of which it goes here, TABLE 2: Contributions by Political Affiliation from 2004 to 2012 Party Records Total % of Overall
    Democrat 358 $4,388,193 77.21%
    Republican 37 $27,450 0.48%
    Nonpartisan 0 $0 0.00%
    Third Party 0 $0 0.00%
    Ballot Measures 21 $1,267,476 22.30%
    So this says FEA gave $4.388 Million to Democrats and $27,450 to Republicans.
    Now we cannot trust our teachers to teach correct math to our students?
    This link takes you to the correct information. http://www.followthemoney.org/database/topcontributor.phtml?u=20219&y=0&PHPSESSID=19e2a00a835c97b9e8433e6a37650f21

  4. small business owner says:

    Congrats to Katie Hansen, President of the Flagler County Educators Association, for the wonderul, enlightening article. I hope everyone takes the time to read it to better understand what our teachers are facing in the job of educating our children. I appreciate what they do, and I am proud to support them. They help support my business! Let’s be honest, without them a lot of small businesses would be in worse shape than we are now. Let us help by supporting our teachers!

  5. David says:

    Ms. Hansen, as a school teacher I except you to mold and teach my child to become adapted and adjusted to the teachings that you provide to infill in my child to be able to handle the “stress” as you call it to learn to become able to adapt to the pressures of solving problems and confident in taking tests. Too many emphasis are place on the child to allow them to succeed with out the fear of failing. But unfortunately it does not work that way when my child goes out into the real world. That’s why I feel that today’s youth are not ready to face the challenge of what is expected of them in the real working world. Please stop “sugar coating” this, and start preparing our youth to be ready and confident to handle what ever is thrown at them when they step out to become our leaders of tomorrow.

  6. Joe A. says:

    David
    Maybe it time for parents to start parenting to allow teachers the opportunity to educate.
    It is the responsibility of the parents to mold them into a decent human being, which greatly lacks this day in age. It is the responsibility of the teacher to educate them. Lets not confuse the two. Big difference.

    Politicians in Tallahassee are so far disconnected from reality, it is like they are governing out of their ass. How about legislators allow our students learn and not make teachers conform to a standardized FCAT.

    I bet you half the kids in school could not tell you one damn thing about American History. Why? They are being forced fed standardized testing. Learn the test, not the material. Those that do not learn history are bound to repeat it.

    Lets put blame where blame belongs. Those that develop the curriculum in Tallahassee, not the teachers in Flagler County forced to carry out the will of the state.

    • David says:

      @Joe A. You misunderstood what I was saying. I realize it is the parents responsibility to “mold” their children to be well behaved and acceptable in society. What I am saying is that it is the teachers who educate and prepare children to be able to accept responsibility to learn how to solve problems, and take interest in their. education Children today are spoon fed into believing that they are special, and will never fail. but when they do fail they have know ideal how to handle it. Also, most of today’s kids are move through the education process without really learning. This is all due to the “No Child Left Behind” belief.

  7. Nancy N. says:

    Of course we need to teach our kids to learn to handle pressure situations. But high-stakes testing is not the way to do it. Do we really need to be telling 8 year olds that everything is on the line with a multi-day test? Really? We complain kids grow up too fast and then start putting that kind of adult pressure on them at that young age? Pot, meet kettle.

    I am old enough to have grown up before high-stakes testing and before the “kids can’t fail” attitude in schools. I learned to handle pressure situations, through regular classroom testing and presentations, through my extra-curricular activities in debate and public speaking. Other kids I grew up with took part in things like sports, and music, and dance, and other such things where they had to put on performances under pressure to have one shot to get it right. We can raise our kids to learn these lessons without these tests. My generation did. And I’m sure generations before me did too.

  8. Binkey says:

    @david,
    The real world? For 1700 employees and their families education is the real world. For the 12,000 or so students and their families it is the real world. It may not be your world, but it’s still the real world.

  9. Katie Hansen says:

    “Think first”- You should conplete a much more thorough search before accusing me of exaggerating… On behalf of FEA, affiliate PACs (from local Unions in nearly every county across the state) have supported and contributed to republicans over the past two years (as well as prior to that and currently). The $100,000 figure is a sum of the contributions made by FEA and its locals. I would suggest that you and others would need to research the contributions of each and every one of the locals across Florida to see my statement as true. 
    “David”- I think that it is important for PARENTS and teachers to work together to prepare our students for their futures. I work hard in my classroom with my students to do just that. However, the more testing that we require of these students, the LESS time I have to accomplish that goal. I’m not sugar-coating anything. I have high expectations for my students that go far beyond a score on a test. I expect them to be respectful, courteous to their peers, accept others and appreciate their differences, and to set lofty goals for themselves – none of which are tested on the FCAT. I would encourage you to volunteer in your child’s school and work with other students as well. Together we can help our students achieve more

    • Think first, act second says:

      Ms. Hansen,
      Pls provide me a link, I provided you mine, to substantiate any of the claims you now profess. You say PACS, who are not forthgiving with information, made contributions of $100K to Republicans. If in fact that is true, and I cannot find substantiation, then $100,000 over 2 election cycles, out of a pool of money in Florida only of $4.4 Million does not seem that you are supporting the “unions prefer to align themselves with candidates that support the same educational issues that we do” and you are saying then that the Republican tax payers in Flagler County and Florida do not “align themselves” with you. How then can I stop paying the taxes you do not covet?

  10. Lefty Loon says:

    Ms. Hanson it is so nice to know that you along with all your peers will be taxed heavily to provide me with food, healthcare, and housing in the new world created by Osama Ben Blame me. Thank you so much. Work hard and keep telling your union to keep pitching for those pay raises so the government can raise your taxes and give me more. I also thank all the news media and their high paying high taxed jobs that I will benefit from. I don’t care if I can make in the private sector as long as I can ride on the backs of everyone else that works.

    Oh yes and by the way… One of the big benefits to not working and getting paid for it is the time I have to teach my children what I want and to test their progress the way I want to. I’ll just send them to your school for the free food and the free phys ed. so they can get a scholarship to get a free college education. Since you dumb down the tests they can just glide along and take all they can get. Thank you so much for your money.

    • Linda says:

      Teachers are overly criticized, as your email supports.

      You seem to imply that teachers make too much money. I made more money as a diner waitress in upstate NY and in Fort Lauderdale than I do as a teacher in Flagler County.

      You should also spend a week in a school. Much of the work teachers do is social work – dealing with behavioral issues before we can even get to the subject matter. I’m not complaining. I am more than happy to help give direction to my students’ lives which others have not. We take our students as they are – as they come to us.

      That said, teachers are sometimes abused, not unlike the school bus monitor whose abuse went viral. Many teachers are cursed at, physically threatened, and even physically assaulted by students who come to school with few social skills, through no fault of their own. And so we work with them because we care about them. We do not quit.

      As one who has had many careers, I can say that with few exceptions you will not meet anybody anywhere that cares about our country’s children more than our teachers do.

      Could we all please try to work together instead of making snide remarks that help no one and nothing?
      For people that think they are better able to teach their children the substantive knowledge that highly educated professionals have devoted their lives to doing, those people should go ahead and home school. It is clear that those parents are not going to be supportive or part of the team that works so hard to make sure their children will have choices in life by virtue of their education.

      I am so grateful to all the teachers I’ve had for sharing their knowledge and wisdom with me.

  11. grad says:

    Keep testing in schools. It prepares you for college like no other.

    Sincerely,
    A former FPC now college student

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