Steve Perry, a Connecticut principal and CNN commentator, laid a dose of shame on about 350 education advocates in Charlotte Thursday, trying to jolt the crowd past endless talk of education reform into a passion for “ed revolution.”
Persistent failure of minority students, especially African American males, shows people don’t care enough to provide them with good schools, he said at a MeckEd community breakfast at the Crowne Plaza hotel.
“You don’t have just an achievement gap. You’ve got two different school systems,” Perry said. And he pinned that responsibility on the crowd of business, education and community leaders.
“Everybody here knows every raggedy school in Charlotte,” Perry said. “When we care about children, we send them to schools that work, and when they don’t work we shut them down.”
He said afterward that when failing schools are closed, the next step is to “voucher students out” to public, private or charter schools with a record of strong performance. And he didn’t mince words about using test scores to gauge success: “We’re schools. That’s what we do: We give and take tests.”
Perry, the founder of Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Conn., is a regular CNN education contributor and author of “Push Has Come to Shove: Getting Our Kids the Education They Deserve Even if it Means Picking a Fight.”
He clearly came to Charlotte ready to pick a fight for kids. He had harsh words for central office staff, teachers’ unions (and the associations that are North Carolina’s equivalent), custodians who don’t get schools clean and individual teachers who make excuses for failure and “talk about children like dogs” in the teachers’ lounge.
He said he’s heard teachers complain that they can’t help children who arrive “so far behind.” Children are 4 years old when they arrive at school, Perry said.
“You mean to tell me you can’t catch a 4-year-old up? Then you suck at your job,” he said.
Perry even took a jab at new “swashbuckler” superintendents who sweep in every few years ready to shake things up. “That stuff makes our job very, very, very difficult,” he said, sitting next to new Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Heath Morrison on the stage.
Morrison told the crowd he agrees with Perry that central offices need to do a better job of listening to what educators need and staying out of the way of success. But he said afterward he thought Perry painted with too broad a brush in dismissing the efforts of administrative staff.
Morrison said his goal is to improve weak schools before closing them, and to revamp central offices so they do a better job of serving schools.
While Morrison said he didn’t agree with everything Perry said, he supports the push to have difficult conversations and stop tolerating failure just because students are poor or African American.
Perry said the only way to break past failure is for the community to love all its children, and for teachers to love and value their students.
“You can tell me that you value all children, but as a visitor, it’s hard to make that argument to me,” he said. “A child who is loved will go through fire for you.”
MeckEd is an education and advocacy group focused on CMS. Executive Director Bill Anderson said he revived the community breakfast after a hiatus and was thrilled by the sold-out attendance.