I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Reformy Dr. Steve Perry Show - Part III

When we last left the very reformy Dr. Steve Perry, he was in the throes of a Twitter spasm, denigrating teachers while extolling his own moral superiority. In Part I and Part II of this series, I took a look at the student population of his school; turns out he has far fewer students in poverty at his magnet school than the neighborhood schools of Hartford surrounding him.

Sometimes, when I look at these celebrity reformy types, I have to dig deep to find out what they're all about. But not this time: it turns out Dr. Perry has been out pushing his brand across the country - hard. This past September, when most principals were up to their ears with the start of the school year, Perry was launching his book with a star-studded party; guests included Diddy, Chris Rock, Geoffrey Canada, and Joel Klein.

What has this man learned from hanging out with the stars?
I'm at a party and Kev Liles, I met him at the premiere of "Black in America 1." Soledad said I should meet this cat. He had an engagement party, a small affair, but Diddy was there, Jay, Andre Harrell. I'm walking out and Diddy says 'Whaddup Ni**a"(laughs). He said, "Good shit, I like what you do," and I replied, "Good shit, I like what YOU do." And then Jay told me that there are some things that he wants to do, and he would really like to talk about it. He clowned me for driving my kids to school.  Before I left he let me know that he was serious and really wanted to do something, still I'm just like whatever. I don't go out and make beats, you know, so if they want to do what I do, then you have to be real.
Just another day for a humble Connecticut principal, right? Except I don't know many principals who've been sponsored by Verizon, and have regular gigs on CNN, and who have their own publicists, and are registered with a speakers bureau.

Yes, it's true: you can get Dr. Perry to show up at your school or corporate event for a reported mere $10,000. What do you get for your money?
I’m here to discuss Dr. Perry. He recently visited my school and gave a very interesting talk. Notice that I didn’t say a “talk on [insert topic].” That’s kind of important to remember.
He began with an anecdote detailing his most recent Christmas Eve experience. On that day, his younger son had a particularly intense seizure that really shook up his family, especially him. According to Perry, while his son was unconscious, he felt a deep regret for all the nights and moments where, instead of being with his wife and kids fulfilling his role as a husband and father, he was fulfilling his duties  as a principal and/or mentor to his students. His son survived, thankfully, but Perry was shaken up. This experience led him to later reject a lucrative job offering that would have required even more time away from his family.
A moving story, right? Sure. Inherently, I think it’s a pretty interesting story, but my transcript of it and his execution of it are two very different things. His presentation of it was very dry and unmoving. While telling it, he frequently paused or stared blankly into the crowd or stammered over his words with an indifferent grin. These sound like symptoms of someone telling a painful, personal story, but in all honesty, he was just unprepared. I know that criticizing how he presented his sad little story seems really anal and nitpicky, and on some level, it probably is, but when someone visits my school at the expense of 10K +, mountains of stress on multiple people and organizations and sheer nonsense (SGA meetings are fascinating in the worst ways), I expect that person to do with words what Scorsese does with a camera. Thus, when he used to 20 minutes of his limited, costly time to give an unmoving, poorly prepared and ultimately pointless anecdote, I was annoyed. [emphasis mine]

Oh, dear. Well, maybe he was off his game that day; what does this diarist from DailyKos think about a visit to her school by Dr. Perry?
Everything went well until the end of the day. I was not present, but heard about it immediately after the fact.
CNN cornered our students and demanded to know if they thought they were learning anything. How did they know? How can they prove it?
The teacher was given the same in-her-face treatment and questioned along the same lines. She was informed that, "Some teachers need to be fired here."
She came out of that room shaking, extremely upset - and knowing her reaction to Steve's rudeness will be seen coast to coast.
Dr. Steve Perry is a strong advocate of personal responsibility in all aspects of life. As a motivational speaker he emphasizes the social issues in the community with messages that aim at building up both the individual and the community so that our children can be better contributing members of society. His calls to action, personal responsibility and solutions. Man up Nobody is Coming to Save Us
Dr. Perry is a social worker with no administrative certification or teaching background. I suggest he 'man up' and obtain the same certification and experience as the public school teachers he assails in order to promote both himself and CNN.
Until then, he's just an attack journalist - with no cred.
OK, that's just two people's opinions. Let's ask some folks from Connecticut, where Perry works; they would know him best, right?
As Perry’s star rose, talks persisted. Parents complained that Perry kicked their children out of school, that Perry had a 100 percent success rate because he picked bright students, and he had fewer than 50 students graduating each year. So, they argued, it would be baffling if he had failed to graduate only a few students.
Recently, I watched the controversial 2009 CNN special that featured Perry. On the surface, his message is inspiring and instructive: You can achieve if you work hard, overcome obstacles and be persistent. However, the subtext is familiar yet disturbing: Yeah, there’s racism. But get over it.
Perry’s principal message is at the crux of the local backlash.
That’s because blacks in Connecticut have been trying to get over slavery and its long-term effects since 1638. And the state has responded by enacting laws to prevent them. Take for example the Tanya McDowell incident in Norwalk. Norwalk officials arrested the 33-year-old, homeless woman because of a law that has its genesis in the 1830s.
In April 1833 a white teacher named Prudence Crandall opened a school for black girls in wealthy Canterbury. The state responded by enacting a law that banned blacks from traveling into the state for an education. In April 2011, McDowell’s decision to put her six-year-old in the Brookside Elementary School in a high-achieving and wealthy school district exposed that lingering custom. She was arrested and charged with a felony for stealing a quality education. She faces 20 years.
Slavery and racism perfected for almost five centuries cannot be over within five decades. Today, like the 1830s, a convicted white man has a better chance of getting a job than a black college graduate with no criminal record. Black unemployment rate today is the same level as it was in the 1960s. Blacks with credit scores of 750 and a graduate degree are subjected to predatory lenders and collectors. They also face discrimmination when seeking loans and apartments.
And Perry’s Washingtonian message that blacks should get over racism has rightfully rubbed some the wrong way — as it should.
Racism is not an obstacle to get over like a hurdle on a school playground. It’s a systemic problem to confront.
Well, that's just some people's opinion. Let's ask an educator; what does a veteran teacher think about Perry's book?
Throughout, Perry spews unsubstantiated pearls of wisdom that he appears to pull straight out of his asterisk. That is if there were asterisks; the book is largely devoid of footnotes or citations. This is the world according to Perry, where coaches and attractive people make the best teachers. It’s also a world of mangled metaphors: “Urban schools are America’s canary. The shafts are dangerous. Traveling them will cost more than money.” Perry cultivates a maverick image, peppering his speech with colloquialisms like “piss-off,” “hell yes” and “hell no,” “silly-ass,” “raggedy ass,” “sorry-ass,” “dumb ass,” and several other variations on the ass theme. He may be keepin’ it real for the ’hood, or just swapping brazen rhetoric for substance. It’s hard to say. 
Perry takes us through most of the hot-button topics in education today: failing schools, teacher pay, school vouchers, parenting, teacher accountability, No Child Left Behind, tenure, and so on. What he serves up in response is a warmed-over casserole of premasticated ideas: authentic assessments, learning styles, the importance of safe and happy environments, relevant lesson planning, and so on. He expounds at length on “good” and “bad” teachers, then—as if to nullify his own views—he boasts that his staff was drawn entirely from failed schools. “But when they were put in a better system, better things happened.” I couldn’t have said it better. 
But things are not as they seem at Capitol Prep. Perry hints at this periodically: “I’ve seen the right students and the wrong studenwts come to Capitol Prep.” Elsewhere he says it’s “excruciating” when a student is in “the wrong school.” So what happens to these “wrong students?” Capitol Prep is without doubt an excellent magnet school. But parents elect to send their children there. Perry defensively responds to those who presume that he must “cream” the best students from the system, declaring “untrue!” Consider this, though: it’s a college preparatory school. “If you don’t want to go to college,” says Perry, “go somewhere else.” Capitol Prep is a year-round school where uniforms are required and discipline is stressed, attracting parents who demand more of their children. Students for whom the school is not a “good fit,”—i.e., they are not doing well—are “counseled” out. In one recent year forty-three percent of the enrolled students left before graduation. This is not just cream, it’s extra heavy whipping cream. Of the fifty-seven percent of students remaining, all go on to four-year colleges, Perry’s claim to fame. 
Regular public schools must accept the “wrong students,” along with many other kids for which Capitol Prep would not be the “right school.” Principal Perry must know he has a good deal going. In any other situation he would likely be just another anonymous struggling educator.
Oh, my. I've been wondering how this man managed to find the time to be an author, a speaker, a broadcaster, a Twitter-holic, and a celebrity... and still find the time to run a school. I guess it's easier when your attrition rate is so high.

I'd be happy to correct the statistic alleged in this report, if Dr. Perry will simply release his attrition rates. Perhaps he can find some time in his busy, busy schedule to do so.


Anonymous said...

Not even licensed. Superb. What happened to Connecticut's standards. One thing to fund a charter, but the guy isn't even licensed. Stunning. So much is wrong with this story and "Dr." Steven. They love him at CNN and that's all that matters. Just hope that when this reform movement passes we can have a trial. Something akin to a war crimes trial since what some of these bast**** are promoting is akin to crimes against humanity.

kidsnetsoft said...

Thanks for the post. With the many qualified people that can represent education, why would CNN pick Steve Perry? I truly believe that unless people have been through the trenches as a teacher, they are relatively clueless to represent and understand what we do.