Florida teachers protest in Tallahassee against state’s education policies. (Photo by Mike Archer, Used with permission)

“Enough is enough.” That was the chant during a protest by up to 3,000 teachers in Florida who traveled to Tallahassee, the state capital, to send their message to legislators that high-stakes testing, for-profit charter schools and other market-based reforms are hurting public education.

The Thursday rally — called by the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union — was held in a spot where lawmakers could hear the proceedings, which included speeches by educators who said it was past time for change.

Education battles have been escalating in Florida, with educators, parents and others opposing the state’s standardized test-based school accountability system. Not only did the state’s association of district school superintendents issue a statement in September saying members have “‘lost confidence” in the system, but the Sun-Sentinel in south Florida warned in an editorial that the accountability system could collapse under the weight of its own problems.

Florida’s superintendents have called for the state to suspend the accountability system for a year — meaning that the scores from this spring’s administration of the exams will not be used in evaluations — and a full review. Their September statement said in part:

In this high stakes environment, students, teachers and schools should not be impacted by a rushed and flawed administration of new, untried assessments. While direct negative consequences were avoided for students, the results of a flawed assessment will impact teacher evaluations (VAM) and be used to judge the quality of school

[Big trouble in Florida — but it’s not a hurricane]

Here’s a speech delivered to the protesters Thursday by Wendy Bradshaw, who resigned last year as an educator in Florida’s Polk County who specializes in working with children — infants through fifth grade — living with disabilities to help improve their educational and life experiences.

Bradshaw, in an open resignation letter, said she loves to teach but she had reached a point where she could not tolerate working within an education system focused on standardized test-based accountability that forces children to perform developmentally inappropriate tasks. Her letter went viral. It said in part:

Like many other teachers across the nation, I have become more and more disturbed by the misguided reforms taking place, which are robbing my students of a developmentally appropriate education. Developmentally appropriate practice is the bedrock upon which early childhood education best practices are based, and has decades of empirical support behind it. However, the new reforms not only disregard this research, they are actively forcing teachers to engage in practices which are not only ineffective, but actively harmful to child development and the learning process…. I just cannot justify making students cry anymore. They cry with frustration as they are asked to attempt tasks well out of their zone of proximal development. They cry as their hands shake trying to use an antiquated computer mouse on a ten year old desktop computer which they have little experience with, as the computer lab is always closed for testing. Their shoulders slump with defeat as they are put in front of poorly written tests that they cannot read, but must attempt. Their eyes fill with tears as they hunt for letters they have only recently learned so that they can type in responses with little hands which are too small to span the keyboard.

[Special ed teacher quits: ‘I just cannot justify making students cry anymore’]

Here’s her speech at Thursday’s rally:

When I resigned, I had no idea that so many people felt the way I did. I just knew that I had had enough of being told that the whims of politicians were more important than the students I was teaching. It seems that all of you feel the same way?

When I was at the state board of education meeting in October [2015], one of the members said that she was torn because everyone had different opinions about what was best for our children. But they seem to only be listening to the opinions of those who want to profit off our children, not those who want our children to profit from their education. I have had enough of CEOs telling me that my child is a product for them to use. I have had enough of test makers and curriculum companies seeing my child as a cash cow. Our children are more than a product for their consumption.

I had high expectations for my students, and I have high expectations for my daughter. I also have high expectations for the lawmakers and board of education to do what is best for children based on educational research and the recommendations of educational professionals. Unfortunately they have overwhelmingly failed to meet expectations, then inevitably blame their failures on anyone but themselves. I have had enough of their avoidance of accountability for their actions.

I have had enough of wrong-headed bills, such as the merit pay bill that just went into effect, which disproportionately hurt our students with the highest needs by punishing good teachers for working with them. As a special education teacher at a Title I school, my students had to be working far below grade level to even be placed in my classroom. However, my evaluation and paycheck would be penalized if they didn’t score at the same level as children without disabilities, no matter if they made tremendous progress. Is it any wonder that the teaching shortage is most critical in special education and schools serving low-income children? Why are they ensuring the deck is stacked against these students by paying teachers to stay away?

I have had enough of legislators mandating everything under the sun, without a shred of evidence as back up, but balking when it comes to guaranteeing physician and research supported recess for 5-year-olds. These are children, they are not robots. Give them a break.

Here in Tallahassee, they seem to love the phrase College and Career Ready. I can direct them to a large group of citizens who graduated from college and were career ready. They are called public school teachers. I have had enough of teachers being ignored as professionals with expert knowledge in how to help children learn. I have had enough of watching children shut down and hate coming to school because they are casualties of this battle for control of public schools. Education should be about teaching children how to learn, not how to jump through hoops to pass a test. I will not narrow my daughter’s horizons to fit their narrow understanding of educational readiness. In fact, I challenge the Board of Education and members of the House and Senate Education Committees to take the FSA tests required for graduation, if they are so sure that they can prove someone is college and career ready.

Over the past few months I have talked to many educators, parents, students, and child advocates. We all agree that there need to be changes in education. A lot of them asked, how do we do it? How do we change things? We are here to say we have had enough of the way things are, but what do we want for in its place?

I’ll tell you what I want. I want student-centered schools, not test-centered schools. Schools where the needs of the students come first, where they are encouraged to explore their strengths and develop all their abilities, not just the ones that generate data points. I want students to learn through experiences and problem solving. I want schools to emphasize creativity and critical thinking.

I want standards grounded in research on child and human development and written by experts with actual classroom experience in the grade levels they are written for.

I want every child to have the benefit of highly qualified teachers who are encouraged to use their professional knowledge to design instruction to meet the needs of every child.

We can do this. We can do this by writing and calling our elected officials on a regular basis, from our local school boards all the way up to our state and federal representatives and making our voices so loud that they can’t help but hear us. We can vote out those who don’t listen or don’t care about what is best for our children.

We can vote in candidates who are willing to work for changes that are in the best interest of our children. We can join action groups who support high quality public schools and reject subjectively punitive high-stakes testing, such as Opt Out and the Network for Public Education. I know that together we can take back education for our children and their futures. Let’s show them that we are demanding change because we have had enough.