Why Aren’t Students Ready? Barriers to College Access for America’s Youth
Thursday, 10:00 am–11:15 am, Livingston Student Center, Livingston Hall
Dr. Steve Perry CNN Education Contributor; Principal, Capital Preparatory Magnet School
It's a fair point - but I was on a specific mission. You see, Perry has brought an indictment against the entire US education system:
Education and an educator saved my life; now I must do the same. I started Capital Prep, tour the country giving speeches, and have written this book because I know that America has failed to develop a successful public school system that can be replicated across racial and class lines. This book - and the life that I'm living - explain why we've failed and how we can be successful. (p.12)That's the key: Perry is saying that his methods have produced a school that is replicable, across both racial and class lines. In fact, he has little patience for the notion that our education system should only judge itself by how it serves children at the top, both academically and socio-economically:
You'll actually hear people say things like, Well, if we could factor out the poor schools, all those miserable "inner-city" scores, the U.S. would be on par with those other developed countries. What are they smoking? This isn't some deli counter where you can shave off the inedible ends of the ham. You cannot lop off these tens of millions of underperformaning students and then try to redo the math. (p.24)Got that? It is wrong, in the world of Steve Perry, to discount the low performance of students who have been stuffed into the bottom of the class barrel. According to Perry, you can't judge an education system - or, ostensibly, a school - as a "success" if you don't take into account how it serves the poorest, most disadvantaged, most academically challenged children.
Which is all well and good... except for this:
Steve Perry's school, Capital Prep**, has less than half as many children who qualify for free lunch as most of the "neighborhood" high schools in Hartford, CT, where CP is located.
So how can Perry possibly say that he has developed a school that can be replicated when he doesn't serve nearly as many children in poverty as the schools he denounces? How can he possibly say he has a model that can serve "tens of millions of underperforming students" when his student population looks like this?
Capital Prep has far fewer students with special needs than the neighboring Hartford public schools. And yet, Perry excoriates these schools:
This, while the crisis around the district is real. This, while over 60 percent of the city's students are reading at least one grade below grade level. In the same year that 100 percent of our Capital Prep children achieved proficiency on the state's standardized writing tests... (p.81)How can Perry possibly hold Hartford's other schools to his standard while they serve far more students with special needs than he does?
When we say that a kid couldn't read when we got him, it absolves us of the responsibility for curing his educational illness. Throw socioeconomic factors like race, class, and multigenerational poverty into the equation and we can leave the kid as illiterate and dysfunctional as we found him and then shout that it's not our fault. (p.29)Steve, if it's the responsibility of "us" to educate these children, why do you have fewer children in poverty, who are ELL, or who have special needs at Capital Prep compared to the other schools in your city?
This is the fundamental problem with Steve Perry's world-view: he blames other schools for "failing," but his student population substantially differs from the public system he derides. How can he justify this? What could he possibly say that could make sense of this incoherence and annoyingly smug hypocrisy?
Teachers at these theme-oriented elite schools know what is expected and they either comply or they get fired. Students and parents know as well, and if they don't like it, they can get out, too. Not every school is for everybody. This cannot be overstated. (p. 230)Now that is slick: Perry's uses "choice" to justify having a student body that is appreciably dissimilar from the schools down the street. And he adds a dash of racial politics to cover his rear end:
People have often asked me how we, at Capital Prep, pick our kids. Where do we find them? I tell them that we get them from the failing raggedy-ass schools. The presumption is that the only way we could get our results is to cream - or select - the best kids from the most involved parents, This notion, while seemingly reasonable, is completely unfounded and untrue.
See how this works? If you happen to point out that it's massively hypocritical for Perry to say that other schools are inept when they're educating different kids than Perry's school is, then you are the racist! How dare you bring up the facts in contradiction to Steve Perry! He is, after all, a "superstar"!Why, then, this presumption? Plainly, it is a cop-out for those who could not educate the kids we've been able to send to college. Our results speak to other schools' ineptitude. Also, beneath the suggestion that we somehow have different kids are certain racist underpinnings. (p. 219)
Yes, they are. So how does Steve Perry do when stacked up against schools that serve the same children that CP does?Race, class, parents' education, school location, unions, and bureaucracy are mere jungle vines through which they ["superstar principals"] machete a path to academic success. Great principals are intolerant of excuses and focused on results. (p. 82)
Perry is just a little below the trendline, when judged by reading scores, compared to schools that serve the same percentage of children in poverty as Capital Prep. What about math?
OK, just a little bit above the trendline. How about on the SAT (not the best measure, admittedly, but Perry does claim he runs a college preparatory school - so, by his own rules, I would argue, this is fair game):
Of course, Perry says he doesn't "skim the cream":
Charter and magnet school students are often as poor as - or poorer than - those who attend nearby neighborhood schools. Charter and magnet schools don't have any acceptance criteria and therefore a lottery is the method used to select students. Often educational performance is so seemingly "suburban" that people suspect charters and magnets of culling the best students from the applicant pool. They are wrong.Well, sure - Perry doesn't need a lottery. Not when he can simply counsel out the students who aren't quite fitting in...
35% of the kids in CP's Class of 2011 who entered as freshman didn't make it to their senior year.
I guess 35% isn't really a "high number" in Steve's book. And yet, in spite of all this, Perry claims a 100% college acceptance rate. Hey, it's not like he doesn't admit what's going on here:3. Dropout rates. Schools that suck have high numbers of kids who drop out. Schools that make kids feel unloved and disconnected have kids who become withdrawn and ultimately withdraw. (p. 96)
I've seen the right students and the wrong students come to Capital Prep. We're heavy on dsicipline. Some kids crave this. They love our in-your-face, take-no-prisoners approach, while others hate it. (p. 66)I'm sorry - the "wrong students"? Who are they?
A small number of students are obnoxious brats; the vast majority are just caught up in the hormonal mayhem of being kids. (p.42)Hmm... maybe if 35% isn't a "high number," it's a "small number"...
There's really no point in continuing here: I think Perry's words themselves say all we need to know about the man. It's a shame Rutgers didn't think about all this before bringing him to what is arguably the most important teacher preparation institution in the state. I'm all for free discourse on our college campuses... but I'm also for holding people accountable for their words. Once again:
You'll actually hear people say things like, Well, if we could factor out the poor schools, all those miserable "inner-city" scores, the U.S. would be on par with those other developed countries. What are they smoking? This isn't some deli counter where you can shave off the inedible ends of the ham. You cannot lop off these tens of millions of underperformaning students and then try to redo the math. (p.24)Steve Perry: ham shaver.
Dr. Steve Perry
* All quotes and page numbers are from the Kindle version. Italic and capital emphases are Perry's; bold and underline emphases are mine.
** Capital Prep is misspelled in the CCD data. Just trying to keep it real, folks.