Speech from the 2013 Florida Education Association convention regarding labeling students as failures without extra help

The following speech was delivered at the 2013 Florida Education Association convention and led to the unanimous passage of the resolution below directing the FEA to oppose any legislation which labels children as failing without a program and/or resources for additional school hours with a physically-present certified classroom teacher, not virtual school (,) which these students need for additional assistance.

The evidence cited below collapses the validity of the punitive use of standardized tests in Miami-Dade County, the State of Florida, around the country, and around the world with such practices as holding back students due to failure of a reading exam.

Otto Zequeira
Journalism Teacher of the Year
Florida Scholastic Press Association
Dade and Munroe
Alternate Steward
MAST Academy
United Teachers of Dade

Text of the speech

My name is Otto Zequeira. I am the alternate steward for MAST Academy in Miami for AFT 1974, United Teachers of Dade, speaking as a concerned teacher to move new business item 9...

This is my 15th year as a teacher, and I was Journalism Teacher of the Year for Dade and Monroe Counties in 2005-6. I am here to speak about the important issue of poverty and child learning that Senator Graham addressed.

We teachers have always questioned the school grading systems in which all the so-called F students are low income, inner city kids. Now I have come across more reason to call student labeling, school grades and test-based teacher evaluations a fraud, evidence that the learning gap between rich and poor students occurs entirely in the summer, a time which is completely out of the control of schools and teachers.

According to the Johns Hopkins research, “Schools, Achievement, and Inequality: A Seasonal Perspective” and the New York Times best-selling book "Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell, the public schools are doing a good job of mitigating class differences in learning, and instead they find that learning gaps between rich and poor can entirely be attributed the lack of summer resources for the poor.

Schools, teachers and students are being evaluated with high-stakes tests on the basis of poverty.

As a Hispanic American, I [also] can confirm that the people disproportionately affected by testing discrimination are often Hispanic or African-American [, groups which are also disproportionately plagued by poverty.]

The research instead provides support for expanding optional afterschool and summer learning opportunities. My brother has good experience with this. He is the president of a tuition-free, Catholic middle school in Massachusetts for poor, inner city boys, Nativity School of Worcester. An important part of their success: summer academics and community service at a school students have chosen to attend.

Dividing schools, teachers and students by test data as is currently being done in FL only exacerbates class divisions among students and schools while destroying teacher and union unity through divide and conquer tactics, all while lining the pockets of the corporate and political segregationists. Instead of allowing these people to continue to play the blame game, we need to push for more afterschool and summer opportunities for public school students to succeed.

It is immoral to punish students, teachers and schools for poverty. I urge the FEA to support this resolution.

Text of New Business Item 2013-9

Subject: Oppose legislation that labels students as failing without additional school hours

Text of Motion: Be it resolved that the FEA will oppose legislation that labels students as failing without a program and/or resources for additional school hours with a physically-present certified classroom teacher, not virtual school (,) which these students need for additional assistance.

Rationale: Research in the NY Times best-seller "Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell and "Schools and Achievement, a Seasonal Perspective" by Johns Hopkins - which says the achievement gap is entirely attributable to summer.

Budgetary Implications: Within Existing Budget

Submitted by: Authorized Delegate with 25 Supporting Member Signatures

Mover: Otto Zequeira, UTD

Seconder: Dr. David Kirsner, UTD

Here are some of the statistics for the Nativity School of Worcester, cited above:

Graduates who will be first in their family to go to college: 82%
Graduates four-year high school graduation rate: 93%
Graduates accepted into a four-year college or university: 83%

What is the common word here? Graduates!