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Education

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Push Has Come to Shove

January 15, 2017

Perry, author of "Push Has Come to Shove: Getting Our Kids the Education They Deserve – Even If It Means Picking a Fight," said teachers unions control the length of the school year and school days and how educators are evaluated, which puts them in control of the entire industry. This allows too many children to slip through the cracks.


Perry, the founder of Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Conn., who greets every child at the front door every day, is smart enough to know that education does not happen in a vacuum. Students must be motivated and prepared to learn, and teachers must have high expectations for every child. At the very least, parents need to be advocates for their children as well, and all of these entities must work in tandem.


To be clear, Perry, 42, is a Democrat. He grew up poor. He says he will vote for President Barack Obama again, although he is critical of Obama's educational reforms.

Schools are failing because a majority of the funding – in some cases, up to 80% - is tied up in salaries and benefits of current and retired employees. He also said kids do not spend enough time in school.  "We have to change this perception that kids are supposed to spend their summers playing all day. Puppies don't play all day. There's no justification for short days and long summers," Perry said.


Capital Preparatory Magnet School is considered one of the best high schools in the nation with a zero dropout rate. It has sent 100% of its seniors, who are mostly low- income, minority, first-generation high school graduates, to four-year colleges every year since 2004.

Hartford is similar to Milwaukee in that it has one of the lowest-performing districts in Connecticut, and the state has one of the largest achievement gaps between black and white students in the nation. Perry's school is no different from any of the other successful schools in the country in that it stresses high expectations for everyone and high accountability. 

But his school is different in some ways. For one, the school is year-round. The 2012-'13 school year started Thursday, and kids go to school 203 days out of the year and spend eight hours a day in school. Compare that with most traditional Milwaukee Public Schools, in which the students attend school 180 days out of the year and spend about seven hours or less in school.

"When you factor in lunch and gym at some of the schools, you have to subtract another 90 minutes of actual in-class time," Perry said. 


MPS Superintendent Gregory Thornton told me earlier this year that the district needs to extend the school day and/or the school year in order to close the reading and math gaps.

Simply put, when kids are not in school, they are falling behind. I don't buy the idea that kids will get bored in school if the school day is lengthened.  The best schools already have longer school days and a longer school year. The best teachers know how to use that time to make school more engaging as well as fun. 


Perry said parent involvement is overrated. He said the best students have something inside of them that motivates them regardless of who their parents are. While it breaks his heart when parents are not there to support their children, educators can't worry about that. He tells his children to focus on what they do best and change what they can.


Saying that a child can't learn because he or she is black, Hispanic, poor or comes from a single-parent home is racist, Perry said. I'd have to agree with that.

And this: If schools demand the best out of their kids, chances are they will get the best.


James E. Causey is a Journal Sentinel editorial writer, columnist and blogger. Email [email protected] Twitter: jecausey

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