By: Academia Issue: Vision Section: Academia
One Educators Attempt at Institutional Reform in America’s Schools
Dr. Steve Perry is an educational trailblazer who sardonically questions the engagement of not only teachers, but parents, in his latest book Push Has Come to Shove: Getting our Kids the Education They Deserve – Even if it Means Picking a Fight. In this passionate story, Dr. Perry is sometimes filled with the strength to win back the minds of today’s children and is sometimes filled with anger. At one point, Perry challenges his readers to “sue your child’s school district” in an effort to regain control of the nation’s educational institution and our youth.
Perry’s energetic and sometimes no-holds-barred vision, charts the path for an America where 100 percent of high school graduates go on to four-year colleges; where daily attendance in public schools is 96 percent; and where the achievement gap between minority and white students is closed. He doesn’t hope these statistics will happen, he ensures them, and is willing to throw down the gauntlet at just about any group that could possibly prevent America’s youth from “getting the education they deserve.”
While Perry is known nationally as CNN’s education correspondent, he is first and foremost the dedicated principal at Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Connecticut. The school, which opened in 2005, has seen 100 percent of its graduates go on to four-year colleges. Over the years, Capital Prep has secured a waiting list of more than 2,000 students, of which 40 will get spots in grades six through twelve. He attributes the success of the school to high standards, longer school days, a year-round school year, dedicated staff, and a refusal to give kids a mediocre education. His commitment to the children of Capital Prep is evident every day, waking up at 4:45 a.m. to pick up students underprivileged neighborhoods so that they can make it to school on-time—or at all. The students wear uniforms and come to learn, otherwise, they are asked to leave. They participate in a range of typical courses and are even encouraged to take additional college level courses offered at the school. As principal, Dr. Perry also holds his teachers to the same rigorous standards as his students so that the children at Capital Prep are able to achieve everything he’s envisioned for them. And that means every child that Capital Prep sees come through its doors, will leave holding a diploma with an offer to a four-year college.
The success of Capital Prep has helped to prove some of Dr. Perry’s theories about how to fix public education in America. In the book he begins by pointing out the low-standards that the U.S. holds its students to; stating that a high percentage of students go on to college, only to have to pay for and pass remedial education classes before taking regular college-level classes offered by these same institutions. He notes, “The standards of public education have students aiming toward being ‘proficient,’ when ‘proficient’ in the eyes of public schools is not good enough for colleges.” Comparing the educational standards of the United States, Dr. Perry argues that we are losing the educational race with countries like Finland, Korea, and China.
According to Dr. Perry, the failings of our public schools are everyone’s problem. Whether a disenchanted suburban parent, or one who sends their child to an urban, low-income school, we all are sinking together. He accuses the “raggedy-ass schools” with ineffective teachers for the underperformance of the nation’s students. He criticizes schools and teachers who don’t care, or who accept mediocrity. He blames the administration. He blames just about everyone. More than anything, he loathes the teacher’s unions that counter every attempt at educational reform and who fight against the suggestion of longer school years and extended hours. He believes it is this same union that will not let certain teachers work more, even if they want to, because their contracts do not allow it. “Teachers unions make it a lengthy and almost impossible task to remove incompetent teachers,” he says.
And while the teacher’s union is a cause for contempt, it is the Board of Education, who he challenges every day by running Capital Prep differently than regular neighborhood schools—and succeeding in sending some of the poorest, most racially-diverse students in the country to college. He challenges parents for either not caring or for trying too hard to be friends with their children rather than parenting them. He expresses sadness and anger when he looks in the stands of his school’s football games and sees only faculty. He asks parents to do something instead of making excuses—protesting that poverty, race, and adversity are not reasons for children not to succeed. “Many of our students are poor where money is the measure, yet every single one is rich in promise and potential,” declares Perry.
While his vision and passion have proven to be extremely effective at Capital Prep, comparing the success of magnet and charter schools to the performance of neighborhood schools is often like comparing apples to oranges. Neighborhood schools serve every student in their respective geographical area—they have to accept and work with these students. Whereas charter and magnet schools do a lottery or have an application process to draw in students who apply—they have a choice to educate motivated students. They do not have to take the below-grade-level child who gets transferred right before standardized testing, neighborhood schools do, affecting the scores of effective public schools.
Push Has Come To Shove does a great job outlining the issues facing our current educational system, but lacks measurable solutions. While having teachers who care, a dedicated principal, longer hours and year-round school have certainly proven to be effective for Capital Prep; Perry does not present any actionable or scalable solutions that could be implemented nationwide. He decisively speaks to the incompetency of some teachers, but does not address the issue that great, dedicated teachers are in low supply. He firmly states that budget cuts aren’t an excuse because teachers who care will get it done, but fails to acknowledge that many great teachers who do care, and who are effective are being laid off.
This book challenges all sides of the educational debate. Wherever you stand on this debate, Dr. Perry will strike a chord for you. Push Has Come To Shove delivers an overall good read. It is full of interesting, conversational, passionate language and raises a lot of questions for parents and educators alike. Whether you agree with his views or not, it helps to raise many issues around public education that provides food for thought. Dr. Steve Perry is not only trying to close the achievement gap between races, but he is also trying to improve education for the whole of the United States through educational reform.
He calls to parents and educators to join the fight. Some see him as an inspiration, others find him too extreme; but one thing is for certain, he cares about America’s children.