I know you care about advocating for your children’s education. And you think could be better. Or not. Maybe you wonder what with the fuss, education is just fine, thank you very much.
Whoever you are, whatever you believe about education, you MUST read Push Has Come to Shove, Getting Our Kids the Education They Deserve (Even If It Means Picking a Fight) by Dr. Steve Perry, principal and founder of Capital Prep Magnet School in Hartford, Connecticut and chief CNN contributor on education issues. I guarantee this book will make you think.
In a word, the book is brilliant. But it’s more; it’s honest, blunt, brave, inspiring, educational, helpful, illuminating, thought-provoking, – it will challenge you to think like no other book. And you will be changed for reading it.
Push Has Come To Shove, people.
You Should Care — Even If You Don’t Yet
Look at our country’s highest performing students says Perry, the cream of the crop from our best public schools. Compare these high performing students with the very worst students in Finland. Sadly, our best students are NOT as good as Finland’s bottom 10% of students. Think about that. We’re talking the best of America’s talent here.
That means your good school is a “raggedy-ass school.”
Oh, and feel free to not consider the poor, urban schools. Only, consider what happens if we ignore these schools and the students they aren’t educating.
Perry writes, “You don’t have to care – that is your choice – but you will pay for it.”
What a High School Diploma Means
When Perry gives a student a diploma, he says that he’s making “a public declaration” that the student can “read, write, and compute on a level that will allow him to go to college or work.”
Now, consider that most colleges are remediating around 30% of students in 4-year colleges and 43% at 2-year colleges according to a 2008 report from Strong American Schools.
How’s that diploma looking now?
Parents Should Sue Schools
If your child is not getting the education promised to them with a diploma, Perry says, “you have a case for a breach of contract and damages.”
“When a parent fails to send just one school-age child to school, it’s considered “educational neglect,” a crime punishable by fines and prison.
When a surgeon performs a surgery on you, she can’t blame you if she doesn’t get it right. If she botched your operation, you probably would have a malpractice case, and that surgeon would lose her medical license. According to the Waiting for Superman movie, which Perry quotes in this book, 1 in 52 doctors loses his or her license for malpractice.
When school categorically fails to educate thousands of children, educators shrug and say, “We tried.” . . .
According to Waiting for Superman, only 1 in 2,500 teachers loses his or her job.
Perry asks, “Can you imagine a pilot trying something so ludicrous with the FAA? Claiming, before a flight, that he would try to land the airliner safely.”
Perry argues that if parents can be held accountable for not sending their children to school, then educators must be held accountable for withholding education.
That might take away some excuses. Remember, it’s a hard job and not everybody is cut out for it.
Teachers Unions “have ruined public schools. They are the ones who created the school calendar, . . . and who’ve made firing ineffective teachers almost impossible.” And it’s not just the teachers unions, did you know that there are unions representing principals, secretaries, custodians, security officers, and paraprofessionals?
“All of these groups exist to improve adult working conditions rather than the end product of public education – students. . . . Their working conditions are awesome. Our schools are failing.”
It’s almost impossible to fire a teacher as exemplified by the above statistic. Perry gives the example of seeing one of his teachers sleeping during class two times and how he fought for a year to get the teacher fired. The union used physicians notes and media attacks to fight the firing of this sleeping teacher. Perry went through months of “due process” and had to assign the teacher a mentor. And, even at the end of the battle, the most he could do was get the teacher transferred, not fired.
In Denver Public Schools, I was forced to be in the union. I had a week in February to go down to their office to get out. I wanted out for many reasons but the biggest one was I didn’t like their belief in strikes. If you were around during the DPS strikes, you will remember that it was not, nor ever could be, good for children. It tore apart schools and even after the strike ended, people were left bitter and students felt betrayed.
I joined the union in Douglas County because they had a no strike clause. But I agree with Perry. While unions existed in the past to correct injustices, now they are protecting status-quo and because of it, children are suffering. Your children. My children.
Schools of Choice
I love Perry’s position on choice. “Absolute choice, including public money being spent in private schools (voucher), must be open to all students, rich or poor, Black, White, and other.” Perry condemns those who discourage education outside of your own neighborhood. “I’m for any education option that works now.”
Perry isn’t for one school over another. He is very clear in his belief that students need choice because some schools work better for certain kids than others. He’s adamantly for good schools, no matter the type, and calls the debate over which school is best, silly.
Perry approves of vouchers and thinks the free market should extend to education. What do you think about that Douglas County, Colorado?
Best Advocates E-Organize
This is what you need to know. Well-organized email campaigns can do a lot for your cause and if you do get e-organized, you can change the system writes Perry.
And, emails give you a record. I learned the hard way – my word against the principal’s. Don’t make the same mistake as me. Perry explains, “You need a record of what was said to and by whom.” So, make sure you get everything in writing and, if you’re speaking in person, bring a witness.
Then, move to the central office.
After that, the superintendent.
Do not give up. Email until you get what you need.
A Shrine to Learning?
But, you’re not off the hook completely. You as a parent have a huge responsibility in the education of your child.
“What are you spending your money on? Are there more DVDs and video games than books in your house?”
If you answered yes, than Perry believes you have a misplaced sense of values and it will cost you down the road. He adds, “When our houses aren’t focused on education, is it any surprise that our kids aren’t either? If the only books our children have in their homes are those on loan from their school, then are kids are getting the implicit message that we as parents don’t value education.”
There’s More . . . But I’m Out of Time
Perry covers more topics in the book such as what makes a good teacher, what makes a good lesson, the school principal, the difference between adults vs. parents, teacher certification, making school relevant, AP classes, the ineffective agrarian calendar, and his assessment of what works in education. He addresses the need for learning to be fun and (gasp) relevant to the students’ lives.
He ends with this.
“Public education needs a transformation rather than a reformation.”
“Push has come to shove. Somebody has got to do something. Somebody who looks just like you, loves in your neighborhood, and sends their kids to your kid’s school. Somebody who loves our children’s future more than our adults’ careers.”
I have about half the book highlighted with questions and thoughts in the margains.
It’s the best, most honest book on the education situation in this country that I’ve ever read. (I’ve read a lot.)
You need to buy this book. I’m assigning it. It’s relevant to your life. And you need to think about what you are doing and what you will do to advocate for your child and all children.
Coming up tomorrow, I’ll tell you what Dr. Perry told me in a recent phone conversation.
*** UPDATE: Dr. Perry Interview Posted Here.
Now, before you get all hot under the collar and want to comment that I’m a terrible person who is against educators and teachers are off limits – I am a teacher, and I love great teachers. AJ has amazing, amazing teachers this year who I worship and adore. But I will do not tolerate or condone teachers who are not teaching our children well and are doing more damage than good.
So, why are you?
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