A challenge for Steve Perry

In perusing Steve Perry’s vitriolic, attack-dog, conduct-and-language-unbecoming-a-school-principal twitter feed, a few things became clear to me–but none is more ridiculous and hypocritical than the claim that Randi Weingarten (you know, one of those union “roaches“) and Diane Ravitch support “racist policies” and are “fighting to keep minority kids in failed schools.”

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Central to Perry’s unabashed self-promotions are his constant announcements that he himself grew up in poverty, and that despite the conditions of his upbringing, he was able to succeed academically–which is certainly to his credit. He tweets frequently and fervently that teachers who “can’t” educate kids until poverty is ended should step aside (which, by the way, is a complete, manipulative perversion of the belief that poverty affects students’ academic performance) and let someone else do it, and that anyone who hasn’t personally experienced poverty or “race” (which we’re to assume means racial discrimination) “has balls” to tell Perry the impact those things have on a student’s education in the classroom.

(To turn the tables on Perry’s “I-know-better-than-you” argument, couldn’t a classroom teacher say it takes “balls” for someone with no experience teaching K-12 students to claim to understand the everyday ins and outs of teaching students who have a host of challenges—not just poverty—facing them? But I digress.)

And speaking of poverty, since Perry is such a champion for the impoverished minority students he claims opponents of his “no-excuses reforms” are purposefully persecuting, here’s a challenge one would think he’d jump to accept: open a school that purposefully recruits and retains the neediest, most at-risk, and most impoverished students (many of whom have absentee parents) in Hartford, and educate and support them without “counseling” anyone out. 0% attrition, 0% drop-out, and 100% graduation rates. Do it.

But oddly (or not), Perry seems to adopt the exact opposite approach. According to data from the Connecticut State Department of Education’s 2010-2011 Strategic School Profile report,

  • Capital Prep enrolls a disproportionately LOWER percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch compared with other schools in its District Reference Group (DRG) (50% vs. 80.2%)
  • Capital Prep enrolls the LOWEST percentage of students with disabilities in its DRG (5.7% vs. 13.6%)
  • Capital Prep has ZERO Juniors or Seniors who work at a job for 16 or more hours per week, as opposed to 8.3% in the DRG
  • Capital Prep enrolls among the LOWEST percentage of English Language Learners in its DRG (3.6% vs. 13.1%)

And, according to reports, Capital Prep’s attrition rates have increased steadily since 2009, with the most recent statistics suggesting that 43% of the students who enrolled as freshmen did not make it through their senior year. (I asked Dr. Perry to respond to this claim from the Buffalo Spree article on twitter, but so far, I haven’t gotten a response.) So they didn’t technically drop out and they weren’t expelled; on paper, they left willingly. And poof: the rest of the kids who remained validated Perry’s claim that 100% of Capital Prep’s students graduate and go to college.

As far as its enrollment policy goes, the Capital Prep website states that “Capital Prep expects that the student and his or her family intends to fully comply with both the academic program and our uniform requirements” and will be chosen through a process that decides whether or not to “select” students for “matriculation.”

Ironically, though it seems Perry’s life’s quest is to rectify the racism that he perceives stems from educators who keep minority students in “failing schools,” Capital Prep released the following statement describing the school’s recruitment process to the CT DOE’. In the section titled EFFORTS TO REDUCE RACIAL, ETHNIC, AND ECONOMIC ISOLATION,” officials describe the “compliance challenges” a large population of minority students present and details ways the school recruits non-minorities:

We have instituted a Catholic school day. This is a culminating activity in which we send buses and vans to 5 area Catholic schools and bring the entire 5th and 8th grades to our school for a day of activities. Last year we had over 100, mostly non-minority suburban students, attend. Over 15% of our student body has participated in True Colors, an interdistrict student organization. We have developed partnerships with organizations in which the majority of the participants are non-minority. These are relationships that we anticipate will produce greater numbers of non-minority applicants. We have added this to our traditional methods of recruiting. Finally, we are developing programming, such as theater and music, which will also increase the number of non-minority applicants. We are working to extend the reach of The Capital Preparatory Magnet School into communities that have more non-minority students. Although our suburban population has been robust, most of the students are minority. This has presented compliance challenges in years past, however, this year we have improved by 7%.

So for the sake of “compliance,” and to ensure that Capital Prep is allowed to continue its existence, Perry is recruiting Catholic school kids and “non-minority” applicants to join the Capital Preparatory community. And, says Capital Prep, it is developing “theater and music” programs to increase the number of “non-minority applicants.” (Do theater and music programs not attract minority applicants?)

But Diane Ravitch and Randi Weingarten, who are advocating each day for improved conditions for ALL children attending starved urban public schools (yes, the very children who aren’t privileged enough to make the cut at Capital Prep), are promoting racist policies.

Seriously?

Public schools all over the country are operating without funds necessary for even the most basic supplies; teachers are being laid off; class sizes of 40+ students aren’t uncommon; buildings are without counselors and nurses—and these schools are charged with educating every single student who walks through their doors. No “counseled” attrition; no extreme disciplinary policies (did a five-year-old at Capital Prep really have to eat lunch standing up for an entire block because her mother sent her to school without the proper belt uniform?), and no egregious manipulation and misrepresentation of statistics.

So the question remains: if Capital Prep has such an elite selection process which creates a student population that’s fundamentally opposite from the one Perry claims to advocate for, where will the “less privileged” students, or the ones who are “counseled out” once it becomes clear that they won’t be successful, go? Capital Prep won’t educate them, but its principal will accuse others of being racists who purposefully keep such kids in “failing schools?”

Steve Perry will be in Philadelphia tomorrow (9/16/13) with Michelle Rhee, and it seems he’s pretty excited about engaging in some #RealEdTalk.

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Unfortunately, I can’t go…but maybe someone can pass on my question to Dr. Perry: why not focus your efforts on the most economically and socially disadvantaged students in your district, and keep those students under your care from the start of their high school career until the end You’re a miracle worker, and, as you say, THOSE are the students who need you the most–yet somehow, statistically speaking, they seem not to be the ones who are accepted into and who graduate from your school.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “A challenge for Steve Perry

  1. I Was There in L.A.

    I think the audience will have critical thinkers. This post needs to go to them. Perry and Rhee use very simplistic but popular phrases to capture the audience like “I stand with kids!” and “How dare you not believe black children can learn!” And “We have to fight the system that brings such poor outcomes for poor kids!”.

    Everyone agrees with these statements. But it’s the challenging policy questions they seem to be avoiding.

    I suggest you Tweet your post to the realedtalk while it’s happening live. Hopefully audience members will pick up on it.

    I hope that the Students First staffers who monitor blog posts like this one would really take a critical look at these types of questions and encourage your Town Hall speakers to answer these types of questions, not the easy questions presented at the Los Angeles Town Hall. I was really disappointed at the way the Town Hall was done. I am actually open to what Students First has to say, but am very disappointed in the organization’s lack of conversation at the Town Hall. It makes it look like you’re all scared of criticism. Honestly it makes your organization look terrible to people like me who are, or were, open to your ideas. Focus less on messaging that has populist appeal like “I stand with kids’ interests not adult interests” Answer real questions, and then let the audience counter, and then counter back. I think that’s a conversation.

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  3. The moderator at the Philly Town Hall last night told an audience member to “shut the hell up” when he had a dissenting opinion. Their little town hall was just that: little. Only 50 ppl attended and most of them were members of Students First. Ravitch drew 1k in Pittsburgh and 1k in Philly tonight.

    Before working in Philly Public Schools,I taught special ed in a Philly Charter. I have seen firsthand how certain students are pushed out, the high suspension rates and ppl without education degrees making awful decisions WITHOUT the voice of parents or students. I have watched parents and teachers be silenced and bullied for speaking out, just like you saw at all 3 of the Town Halls. It’s insane.

    Winegarten has been on the ground in Philly, whose district is 88% black, advocating for schools for quite awhile now. Diane in Philly tonight came up with the idea to have clinics in low income areas. How does this promote racism exactly?

  4. Avery Williams

    Your points are interesting and certainly not lost on me, however I have one I’d like to make. It seems one of the central issues surrounding education reform is the unwillingness for adults to put aside their issues and focus on the problems of the children.

    I think anyone willing to dedicate their life to educating children is working hard to save the world. The key words being “dedicate their life”. I don’t honestly know much about Randi Weingarten and Diane Ravitch and I plan to look them up shortly but what I have heard of them is that they are working hard to fix our schools. My knowledge of Dr. Perry is that his goal is the same.

    What I found most disheartening was that this was the first time, in this debate, I’ve felt like the sides were warring. I’d hate to see this debate become like all the others where everyone glares at each other from their respective camps. Call me an optimistic recent grad but I feel that education is something that is still so pure and good that everyone can easily get behind and support. My fear is that if the debate becomes a fight, then we all lose. Keep the goal in mind, we’ve all got a lot of work to do and our kids need us.

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