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Friday, January 06, 2012

Push Has Come to Shove

As the grandfather of three children who suffer learning disabilities, I take great interest in books, like Steve Perry’s Push Has Come to Shove, that offer new ideas about educating this country’s children.  I also share the sense of urgency implied by the title Perry chose for his book – including its subtitle: Getting Our Kids the Education They Deserve – Even if It Means Picking a Fight.  It is past time that this nation gets serious about making the changes required to turn our public educational system around and, if picking a fight is the only way to do it, let’s get started.

How bad is it?  As evidence that it is very bad, indeed, I offer this heart-stopping quote from the chapter that discusses international test scores of school-age children:
           
            “Finland’s bottom 10 percent is better than our top 10 percent.”

If this quote is factual, it is the most terrifying thing I have read outside a Stephen King novel in years.  Imagine, for just a minute, what that really means.  Let it sink in.

When one considers that a minimum of “43 percent of students at two-year colleges and almost 30 percent of students enrolled in four-year colleges” required at least one remedial course before they can begin their actual college-level work, it is impossible to argue that our public schools are doing right by the children we entrust to them.  Too many parents, especially those whose children attend schools in white suburban areas, have been conned into believing that their schools are excellent because of the high percentage of students in those schools who rate as “proficient” on the standardized tests used to quantify such things.  As Dr. Perry points out, students who earn a “proficient” rating on these tests are, in fact, performing below grade level and their parent’s are being treated like fools.

Perry places the blame for the failure of our school system most squarely on the shoulders of teachers and the unions that make it almost impossible to fire them for anything less than sexual misconduct (and even termination for that crime is not always a “gimme” when the unions get involved).  He even titles one of his chapters “Teachers’ Unions: The Worst Thing That Ever Happened to Education,” a chapter in which he exposes the absurdity of a system that unionizes to protect incompetent teachers at the expense of the students they are responsible for educating. 

Dr. Steve Perry
Push Has Come to Shove is not entirely negative, however, and it would be a failure if it were.  Perry offers solutions that include school vouchers to be used to place children in charter and magnet schools, as well as in the existing public schools that are actually educating children properly.  He argues that schools need an immediate redesign if we are ever to educate our children the way we need to get the job done.  This redesign includes: “great teachers and great lesson plans, committed principals, a lengthened school calendar, the use of technology, and an updated curriculum.”

I do not agree with everything in Push Has Come to Shove (especially with Perry’s recommendation to hire the most “attractive” competent teachers to be found because students tend to relate to them easier), but Dr. Steve Perry is definitely on the right track.  The alternative to trying some of the radical ideas espoused in the book is to accept the failed system that is already crippling this country.  The choice is a no-brainer.  It is time to “pick a fight.”

Rated at: 4.5
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