Address to Staff Conference of Colorado
State Department of Education
By Floyd T. Christian, State Superintendent
Florida State Department of Education
Denver Colorado, Thursday, June 13, 1968
The School Crisis in Florida
One day in early March of this year -- about 12 weeks ago -- there
were almost a quarter of a million .unemployed public school teachers
in the United States. They had walked away from their classrooms and
had engaged in what must be regarded as one of the most serious protests
against the American system of government in the short history of our
Teachers in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Oklahoma, New Mexico, South
Dakota, New Hampshire, California and Florida were caught up in strikes
and sanctions, threats and protests. Thousands of schools were closed
and millions of children were left without an education.
I would say that the crisis in public education and certainly the
one in Florida was one of the most serious in the history of our
country. We think of the American system of free, public education as
one of the bulwarks of democracy, so any threat to our educational
system is a major threat to our nation.
In my talk to you here today I want to go into some of the details
of this crisis and put my thoughts into language that will be helpful
to you -- the administrators here in Colorado.
Florida's crisis raised a number of questions which are very
complex and I have found it very difficult to provide good, solid
answers to these questions. They cannot be answered in simple terms
and anyone who attempts to do so is in for trouble.
Also, there is the danger of getting one's prejudice mixed up
with the facts and with objectivity. I shall do nmy best to separate
prejudice and fact, but I cannot promise complete success because I
was involved deeply in this story in Florida.
One of the complex questions I mentioned is this: what caused the
crisis in Florida? This answer is fairly simple Florida's teachers were
fed up. They were tired of legislatures which had failed to provide adequate
funds at the state level for education.
This ire finally reached a crescendo when a governor who ran -- and
was elected on contradictory platform planks of "make Florida first in
education" and "no new taxes" vetoed numerous measures affecting education
at the end of the 1967 Legislature.
His vetoes brought about a rally of 35,000 teachers at a football
stadium in Orlando in Central Florida -- 35,000 teachers gathered under
a broiling sun this is more than half of all the teachers in Florida.
They stood and solemnly vowed they were ready to turn in their resignations,
only days before the opening of the 1967-68 school year. The resignations
started coming by the thousands to their professional organization, the
Florida Education Association.
The resignations sparked the Governor into action -- and the Legislature
also. The Governor, who up until this point ignored the profession and said
there was no crisis, established a Commission for Quality Education, with
instructions to make a study of education lasting more than a year. An
in-depth study of the needs of our schools was begun by a special legislative
But the Governor's Commission was considered a stalling tactic --
"wait till next year" -- and teacher discontent mounted. When it became
obvious that the teachers meant business, the Governor revised his
timetable and the Commission came forth with a report in only a few
short months, rather than in a year.
On the basis of this report, the Governor called the Legislature back
into special session late last January and additional funds were voted
for education funds to be raised from an increased sales tax and from
other additional levies.
This legislation wasn't exactly what everyone wanted, but it was the
best we could pass. And it was tremendous. We doubled our state aid in
one year and even raised teacher salaries higher than the FEA had asked
However, the teachers were misled by their professional organization --
they were given wrong figures andsEsections of the legislation were misinterpreted.
I argued and pleaded with the leadership of the FEA not to take any
unwise action -- but it did no good. The FEA "activated" the thousands
of resignations as the special session adjourned and the walkout was
The public did not support the walkout. Newspapers did not support it.
Only a minority of teachers gave their backing.
In the simplest language, it was not possible for the public to understand
how teachers could leave their jobs after the special session had provided
more than 200 million additional dollars for education, as well as providing
the highest salary for starting teachers in the South and one of the highest
in the nation.
This fall, an inexperienced teacher with a bachelor's degree will be
guaranteed a statewide minimum salary of $5,300 and almost all of our
county school districts are supplementing this, with $6,00 or $6,300 the
figure adopted by most local school boards.
For comparative purposes, during the 1965-67 biennium, Florida
spent $571.5 million in general revenue funds for the public schools -
from kindergarten through junior colleges. For this biennium, the
figure is almost double it is $998 million, just short of a billion
These figures do not include the additional millions going to our
university system. Neither do they include the millions coihlected in
county property taxes for schools nor the millions in federal funds.
Now I ask you, in the face of increased school spending like this,
would Coloradans support a teacher walkout? I think not.
At the peak of the walkout, 25,000 teachers were away from their
classrooms and while these absences crippled our schools, they did not
succeed in closing down the schools statewide. Parents, retired teachers
and others came to the assistance of our children and kept our schools
In some counties, even though schools remained open, there
was very little education being carried out.
I was determined to meet my Constitutional responsibility to keep
Florida's schools open -- and for the most part, we were successful. Joining
me in this determination were other members of the State Board of Education
as well as school board members in the individual counties.
Through action taken by the State Board of Education, at my urging,
various state regulations were amended or new regulations were adopted
which enabled county school systems to continue operations. One set of
changes permitted the employment of individuals without teaching certificates
and allowed the use of state funds to pay these substitute teachers. The
state board also gave me sweeping authority to waive such rules and regulations
as I considered necessary.
It was this action and other resolutions adopted by the state board
which paved the way for settlements between teachers and their individual
county boards. A few of our 67 county boards acted in a very hardheaded
manner and refused to re-employ some teachers. Some of these who were not
re-employed were leaders in their local professional organizations while
others were teachers against whom some board members held grudges.
There are some wounds remaining from this strife such as
unresolved court suits filed by dismissed teachers -- but the bitterness
which existed between teachers who walked out and teachers who remained
in their classrooms is lessening.
Teachers who walked out felt their action was for the good of their
students and teachers who did not join the walkout also thought their
course was proper.
This, in essence, is the Florida school story, 1968. What caused the
walkout is the basic question, but there are other questions as well which
I want to discuss with you.
For example, what has prompted the teachers of America to take their
present posture of militancy? What do they want?
In 1930, 30 percent of the public school teachers in the United States
held college degrees. By 1955, the number had grown to 78 percent, and
today it is somewhat in excess of 95 percent. In Florida, the figure.
exceeds 99 percent. Of these, some 27 percent hold master's degrees.
We all know that there is a great deal about being educated that cannot
be measured by college degrees; nevertheless, there is no mistaking a
great improvement in the education of American teachers and with it a
great change in their professional outlook.
What is the meaning of this change in terms of the present crisis in
education? Principally, it means that teachers want something to say about
how the schools are operated. They want to be involved in making educational
decisions,,including those decisions having to. do with the instruction of students
and with the management of the school system -- and certainly with their
The teachers themselves are quick to point out that it is insulting
for them to be denied any role in making decisions about the schools and
further that it is wasteful of public monies not to take advantage of
the professionals the experts in making certain policy decisions about
how the schools should be run. They point out that while medical doctors
do not ordinarily run the municipal hospitals, they do have representation
on the governing boards; that their representatives are often influential;
and that the decisions they help to make generally influence the fees which
In addition to the more highly educated professional person in the
classroom, several other factors have contributed to the militancy movement.
Consider the following:
There has been an enormous decline in the number of school districts
in the United States since 1945. While this is generally to be applauded,
the effect has been to separate further the classroom teachers from the
decision makers in the larger school systems which have resulted from the
school consolidation. The additional layers of supervision have made
teachers feel the need for an organization devoted specifically to their
Another factor -- and a very important one is the increasing
percentage of male teachers. Today more than one-third of all teachers
are men, an increase of 82 percent in the past ten years. In the Southeast,
Florida ranks first in the percentage of male teachers. Men, typically,
have greater career commitments than women. The welfare of their wives
and children is at stake, and they seek to protect this in the most
effective way they can: by becoming involved in decisions which affect
Still another factor which has spurred on the teachers to organize is
the increased movement toward collective negotiations among other government
employees. This has been most noticeable in the large cities and is probably
a negligible factor in Florida.
Are salaries an issue? Of course they are. But in Florida, the matter
of teacher salaries has received far more attention than it has deserved,
largely because the press coverage has been generally superficial that
is not to say incomplete and the public outlook toward teachers not
very sympathetic; both have made the salary matter an easy handle by which
to grasp the whole problem. Personally, I do not believe that any fair-minded
person who followed the Florida crisis closely could claim that salary has been
the prime issue.
In summary then, America's -- and Florida's -- teachers insist on
being heard, on being reorganized as professionals, and on participating
along with the school administrators and the school board in making decisions
that affect both the operation of the schools and the teacher's own economic
Now for Question No. 2: What of the labor movement in teaching?
At the heart of the present disorder in America's public schools
is the question of what kind of organization the teachers will choose and
how they will use it. The National Education Association has been the
only teachers' organization of any consequence for the past century --
that is, until about seven years ago. It has been essentially a
a professional body. Its basic purpose as described in its constitution
is to "elevate the character and advance the interests of teaching, and
to promote the cause of popular education in the United States." In its
early history, the NEA claimed that discussions of teachers' salaries were
However, as. Conant pointed out in his book, The Education of American
Teachers, there is in every state capital a well-organized teachers' lobby
drawn from the teachers' association and the state department of education
which to a considerable degree represents the NEA although the beliefs,
when translated to action at the state level, emerge with significant differ-
ences from state to state.
Indeed, there have been education lobbies active ones in many
states -- and they have lobbied for more money for the schools, and especially
for teachers' salaries. But the lobbyists, usually the leaders in the state
and local associations, have often been school administrators who could
hardly be said to represent the hungry, young classroom teachers in hot
pursuit of better salaries and heavier participation in decision making.
The lobbyists have lobbied in gentlemenly fashion; their image has been
more that of the gentle schoolmaster with hat in hand than the angry
teacher with a club in his hand.
The National Education Association is now locked in battle with the
American Federation of Teachers and for the past several years the battle
has been intense. It promises to become more so. The NEA believes that
its very existence is threatened and has girded itself for a fight that
may belong and bitter.
The American Federation of Teachers was founded in Chicago in 1919
and affiliated at once with the American Federation of Labor. Its early
growth was slow; by 1934 its membership had not quite reached 10,000.
During the decade of the Thirties it was split by bitter internal Communist
problems, and in 1941 itsexpelled locals in New York and Philadelphia for
alleged Communist activities. The AFT remained small and inactive until
the post-Sputnik era when nearly everybody in this country found something
wrong with the schools and tried to do something about it.
In 1960 the AFT leaders decided to concentrate on New York City.
In November, 1961, they forced the school board to hold a teacher-representation
election. At the last minute, the NEA put together a Teacher Bargaining
Organization to compete but they were soundly beaten and the AFT became a
force in American education overnight.
The AFT's ties to organized labor are strong and durable. They go back
to 1961 when the Industrial Union Department of the AFL-CIO, with special
and personal attention from Walter Reuther, provided personnel and money
to help win ,the election in New York. Labor's interest in the teachers is
generally conceded to be related to the overall slump in union membership
which began early in the decade and to labor's failure over the years to
organize white-collar workers.
If the AFT could succeed in bringing the teachers into organized
labor, the image of unions in the eyes of other white-collar and professional
workers would be greatly enhanced. Thus, the stakes in New York City
were high enough for the AFL-CIO and in the words of one who followed the
movement closely, "the UFT (the United Federation of Teachers is the name of
the New York City local of the AFT) received more aid than any other local
of any union ever had received to compete in a collective bargaining
election." And the results have been well worth the investment. The UFT
with more than 50,000 members in New York City is the largest local in the
Nick Zonarich, director of organization for the IUD, says "teachers
have been the greatest inspiration in instilling new life in the labor
movement." The work force in Americanis changing rapidly from blue-collar
to white-collar, and the AFL-CIO hopes that teachers will lead other pro-
fessions to form unions and to affiliate. The AFL-CIO last year formed
a Council of Unions for Scientific, Professional, and Cultural Employees
and there are some reports of successful membership drives.
In recent years, the growth of the AFT has been almost phenomenal.
Its membership today stands at about 145,000. Most authorities agree that
it will continue to grow rapidly although it has some distance to go before
it catches the NEA which, despite a much slower growth rate, has just
enrolled its one-millionth member.
But the most significant effect of the AFT is the posture of increasing
militancy it has forced on its rival. Dr. William Carr, NEA's executive
director until his retirement last year, had been an outspoken opponent
of strikes. His successor is Dr. Sam Lambert who said recently, "We will
not encourage strikes but if one occurs after all good faith efforts fail,
we will not walk out on our local groups." The position of the NEA in
assisting the FEA leaves no doubt as to how far the organization has come in
supporting work stoppages by teachers by whatever name they are called.
Militancy is clearly the order of the day.
One wonders then what are the differences between the NEA and the AFT.
On the surface they do not appear to be very significant if one views the
current activities of the two groups, but philosophically I believe there
are basic differences. One of the most important in terms of operating
procedures is that the AFT does not accept school administrators as members
whereas the NEA makes no distinction. (About 15 percent of the NEA members
are non-teachers -- that is, administrators and supervisors.) And of course,
the AFT is formally and legally a part of organized labor. As such, it
is more contract-conscious and will doubtless continue to bargain for such
things as hourly wages for after-school work by teachers and it may very
well call on other elements in the labor organization for help in times
In a recent dispute involving the AFL-CIO and a textbook printing firm,
the AFT urged a nationwide boycott of the printer's books which would have
deprived school children of about 170 titles. The effort, in this instance,
was not successful.
As for hourly compensation for "extra" work by teachers, the AFT
contract in Chicago now permits teachers to work no more than 406 minutes
per day. In Philadelphia, a school-wide rate of $7.50 per hour has been
set for such services as coaching athletics, sponsoring the yearbook,
and other duties which teachers have generally considered part of their
The most fundamental difference between the two organizations
remains one of somewhat greater concern for professional matters by the
NEA as opposed to a primary concern for salary and other conditions
of employment by the AFT. Whether this difference will remain is yet to
be seen. There is no doubt that the distance that separates the two
organizations is much less today than it was a few years ago and it seems
to be decreasing steadily.
Another Question: Why have those who are responsible foreoperating
the schools not been more responsive to the teachers' demands?
The political arena in which the teachers now find themselves is
unfamiliar territory and in the conduct of their affairs, they have per-
formed with something less than consummate skill. Their public relations
have been a major problem, less so at the national level than in the
local communities where the success or failure of campaigns for increased
support resides. Consider, for a moment, the situation in Florida during
this year's school crisis.
The FEA adopted the role of a political action group more than a year
ago when it announced for all to hear that it intended to apply pressure
on the Florida Legislature. Last spring and summer, for example, the FEA
attempted to collect information on the personal habits and preferences
of the legislators.
This act and others similar in intent removed any doubt in the minds
of the legislators and the public about the role of the FEA in the 1967
legislative session. They could hardly have found a more effective way
of announcing that from now on things were going to be different. At
about the same time the leadership da the FEA was changing to people who
were younger, more receptive to change, and certainly more militant. They
were not requests that were made of the 1967 Legislature they were
demands -- and they were made in language which the people of Florida were
not accustomed to hearing from their teachers.
I want to make certain you do not miss my frequent references to the
people in my analysis of these events. For=it was the public who controlled
events more than any other group. Let us see how our legislators responded
to the new FEA.
In a word, negatively. The full meaning of this can be understood only
when one looks at the makeup of the Florida Legislature, all of whom were
elected after the reapportionment question was settled in the spring of 1967.
It is hard to imagine a group of legislators more fully committed to providing
increased support for the public schools than the group which assembled in
Tallahassee in April of last year. Without exception the leaders had campaigned
on education platforms -- not just the members of the Democratic majority but
the Republican minority as well -- and they came to Tallahassee ready to translate
their promises to laws.
But then things began to happen. The Governor had made some statements
in his campaign too, calling for a public school system that would be
first in the nation and at the same time proclaiming that he would permit
no new taxes. Now this was profoundly disturbing to the teachers, to
many legislators, and, I believe, to many of Florida's citizens who felt
keenly the need for better schools and who could see no way to get them except
by increased taxes which they were willing, if not eager, to pay.
With the opening of the legislative session in April, positions hardened
quickly and as the session wore on, confusion became chaos. The FEA's
pronouncements became more strident and their actions more militant. And
the public, which the FEA must surely have counted to be its ally, was
largely unable to understand either the FEA's motives or its methods. The
result was widespread criticism of the teachers and failure to support
I said they mutt have counted on the help of the people, for to expect
success in a campaign of this kind without strong public support is incon-
ceivable. Yet, the record of the FEA's actions in those days leaves the
observer to wonder about this point. Many who followed events closely
and who wanted desperately to have the public understand the teachers'
position winced at the tactics of the FEA. Many wondered what sort of
logic ledC them to pursue a course which sometimes seemed deliberately
designed to alienate the people.
And the legislators by now were motivated by their own anger at
the FEA especially its leaders -- and by what they judged to be the
disillusionment of their constituents with the teachers. While it is
true that many were also impressed by the support which the FEAileaders
were able to attract and sustain among the teachers, they were nonetheless
convinced that the FEA was going too far and that there was no satisfying
them except by giving in to their every wish, which the legislators were
in no mood to do.
It is difficult to analyze the Governor's role in the same way as
those of the other two components, for he has operated in a different
manner and he has had different motives. His interest in politics at the
national level has been unmistakable for the past year, and he has behaved
like most politicians would, I suppose, whose interests were not confined
to tending the home fires.
There is no doubt that modest support from the executive branch
would have insured the passage last spring of legislation at least
favorable to the teachers as that which did pass in the special session.
But the Governor did not choose to provide that leadership and the Legislature
and the FEA continued to lacerate one another through the long, hot summer
and into a frustrating fall and a wretched winter. And Florida's school
I am fully confident that if a sizable segment of the Legislature
had listened hard to the teachers' cries of textbook shortages and no
kindergartens and peeling plaster -- and had seen that this was given as
much public notice as was given the alleged misbehavior of the FEA -- the
split would never have become serious and in all likelihood the strike
would not have happened. Show us that you understand our plight, the
teachers said -- show us at least that you care that Florida has fallen
sadly below the level of quality education for its children, at least that
you know about our decline among the states. The sad truth is that not many
people in Florida acted as thoughtthey knew or cared.
To the point that the teachers brought all of this on themselves by
their own tactics, I can only say once again that the teachers and their
leaders were in a game with unfamiliar rules and nobody came to teach them
how to play. Not the AFL-CIO as it did the teachers in New York City in 1961!
The NEA did, you say? But the NEA is also just learning its way around
the political arena and the NEA and the FEA combined were nearly helpless
in this controversy. So the fight became more bitter and the distinction
between the real needs of education and the reprehensible behavior of the
teachers as seen by the Legislature and the public became more obscure.
That it led ultimately to the near breakdown of most of public education
in Florida should surprise no onee
Question Number Four: What of the future?
It must be clear to even the casual observer that the changes education
is undergoing in this country are such as to bring about a future which will
be far different from the past. Most of the changes have gone so far and
are under such force that they will not be stopped or reversed.
There seems little doubt that the teacher militancy we are now witnessing
all across the nation will be a part of public education for some time to
come. Whatever chance there was of halting the trend toward militancy in
Florida, I believe, was lost a few months ago when the teachers suffered
their notable defeat.
Note that the AFT and militancy generally are strongest in the large
cities where the school problems are at their worst. In the affluent suburbs --
for example, those around Chicago and on Long Island where the best schools
in the nation are located and where there is the most generous financial
support non-militant professionalism is still winning out. But it appears
that a great many American people have not yet become convinced that good
education is important enough to pay what it costs. The battle is joined when
these values are pitted against those of most educators and some lay citizens
who believe most strongly in the values of education. The confrontation in
many American communities is serious and will likely be no less so for some
With respect to the competition between the NEA and the AFT, one course
seems to make more sense than any other: merger of the two organizations.
While this is not talked about very much publicly, it has been suggested
by a few people in sensitive positions. If the two organizations continue
to move closer together, it might well happen. Whether the teachers in
general can accept an affiliation with organized labor and all that implies
is yet another question.
My own estimate is that most will resist this until they become
convinced that there is no other way to make themselves heard in the
corridors of power and for education to be viewed as a more important
function of society.
If the teachers do accept the role of lobbyists, if they continue
to play the political game, I believe they will either learn to play it
well, or they will quickly be annihilated. As long as the teachers' repre-
sentatives went to the state legislatures in kindly and gentle fashion
addressing themselves mainly to professional matters and making requests
for more money, they could expect to be treated gently. But if they are
going to play the game the way business and industry play it, they had
better be prepared to go all the way.
Many teachers will find this distasteful and the result may very well be
that they will leave teaching. The result of this could be a basic change
in the character of the teaching profession. Again, it is largely a question
of public support. If the teachers believe their cause will go unheeded,
militancy will probably win out. If on the other hand, there is a willingness
for the people and their elected representatives to fight the battles for
quality education, the teachers may become convinced to confine their
energies iD the legislatures and with the school boards to professional
Now my final question -- based on my own experience -- what are some
guidelines for chief state school officers, board members, administrators
and other leaders of education in America?
First, you cannot take the position in Colorado -- or any other state --
that what happened in Florida couldn't happen to you. It can and you
must be prepared for it.
I think the most serious problem in education is poor public relations,
misinformation, or lack of information -- call it what you wish. I
prefer the term "communications gap."
This gap exists between the chief administrator and school board,
between the board and the teacher, between the teacher and the public.
I think the day has long passed when teachers should not have the right to
bring their grievances before their school board and be given a fair and
This is not to be interpreted to mean teachers should dictate policies
of the board, but simply that they should be heard -- and heard in full --
and where possible, close this gap in communications so that teaching
conditions or salaries or whatever their grievances might be can be best
understood and where possible, be rightfully resolved.
Secondly, I think administrators are in a peculiar class they want
to be a part of their profession -- but while they are a part of the
profession, their chief responsibility is to the children. To use a labor
union term, they are management. To leave a job, with a school unattended -
as some Florida principals did -- is perhaps one of the most serious offenses
I can think of in education. Not only did some principals walk out, administrators
at higher levels -- like assistant county superintendents -- did so also,
leaving behind empty desks. This, to me, is very serious.
Thirdly, I think that school boards and school administrators need to
take a good hard look at their laws, their state board regulations and
their policies with an eye toward revision. In the light of what has happened
in Florida in recent months, we have done this -- especially in the area of
My staff and I, together with a number of county school board attorneys,
have under consideration new wording for annual and continuing contracts
which we believe will rule out any future mass walkout, such as occurred
earlier this year.
I would like to read the wording of one paragraph we have under
study which I believe will prohibit future work stoppages.
Quote "The teacher agrees to teach the full period of service for which
this contract is made and in no event shall the teacher leave his or her
position without first being released from this contract by the county
board, to comply faithfully with the school laws and with all rules and
regulations of the State Board of Education and of the County Board of
Public Instruction, and the teacher further agrees not to engage in any
unlawful or unauthorized work stoppage, strike or collective refusal
to perform his duties, to keep the register, and to make all reports which
may be required by the County Board; provided that the last month's
salary shall not be paid until all reports have been made and all duties
have been performed as required by law." End quote.
This wording effectively spells out conditions which in many cases
now are only implied or are covered in other sections of law. This will
put it in clear black and white for the teachers, and they will be fully
aware of what is expected of them at the time they receive their contract.
If the new contract terms are adopted, annual contract teachers as well
as continuing contract teachers will be covered as new contracts are entered
Finally, I believe the school family has been most derelict in its
responsibility to keep the public -- the taxpayers -- informed. Again,
here is a communications gap. District superintendents, board members,
principals, staff members and teachers must explain fully and honestly
the needs and major problems of their schools.
The taxpaying public must be told why increased funds are necessary,
why a broken windownhasn't been repaired or a peeling wall repainted or why
the textbooks Johnnie brings home are dogeared.
The best way I feel to get the support of your school parents -- and
get them to display an interest -- is to get them involved. Involve the
public, get them interested, show them the problem and you will win their
support. One way we are doing this in Florida -- and there are many ways --
is through the establishment of community task forces, involving citizens
and legislators in education decisions.
We must never assume the position that school people alone are responsible
for getting funds and building buildings and operating schools. Schools
belong to the public and the sooner we get the public involved, the greater
our opportunity for winning support and solving our problems.
By creating a greater awareness of the issues and problems in our
schools -- and getting the public involved -- I think we also develop in
the public a new insight into the teacher as an individual and hopefully --
lift the level of the profession. Everyone should feel that the teaching
profession is important and is a dignified calling of the highest caliber.
A good educational program in a community -- or a state requires
the cooperative efforts of all the people. Teachers alone, citizens alone,
school board members alone, state level staff members alone, or the legislature
alone cannot provide a successful program of education for any state.
Quality education is possible, however, when all the people work together
for a common goal.