Failing Schools: Not About Poverty, Parents

It boils down to one thing, says educator Steve Perry: teachers' unions.

Steve Perry (CNN)

TR: That said, you’re an advocate for school vouchers, which President Obama opposes. He and many other Democrats argue that we should focus resources on fixing public education for all students instead of allowing only some students to attend private schools. What’s your take on that perspective?

SP: Meanwhile, he and all those other Democrats don’t send their kids to those same schools that they want to be patient about. The way I look at it is, at the end of the day, I’m a father. And if it’s not good enough for my two sons, then it’s not good enough for anybody’s son.

It would be really hypocritical for me to stand in front of my community and extol the virtues of local neighborhood schools as I put mine in a car and send them the other way. The president hasn’t always been president — and from the day he became a dad, he damn sure didn’t send his kids to a local public school. How do you stand up for something that you don’t even use?

The other thing is this. None of us advocating vouchers are saying that you make them available to some kids and not others. The only reason [vouchers are] available to some kids is because the teachers’ unions, by virtue of their political clout, limit the number of seats. A school like ours has almost 2,000 kids on the waiting list. The parents have already said, “We want out of these schools,” but we can’t give them choices because [the unions] won’t allow us to get more schools. They are in opposition to any form of choice.

TR: So instead of trying to improve public schools, are you saying we should abandon them?

SP: It’s about going to the best school — it’s not about public or private. I don’t care about the designation of a school, whether it’s charter, magnet, public, private. To me that’s inconsequential. It’s about what’s the best school for that particular family.

Nobody asks a child, “Are you going to go to a public college or a private college? Are you going to go to the college that’s closest to your house, or the one that’s best for you?” We have a voucher program in education that has been in place for some time now — it’s called student loans. It’s called federal grants.

It’s a voucher program that says you can take that voucher and go to any college that you can get into. And nobody says the college system is a failed system; it’s still the best college system in the world. It’s the reason why, no matter how bad our pre-K to 12 is, all over the world people are vying to get access to our colleges.

I want children to go to the best school — not keep a school open simply because it employs people. Closing failing schools is the best thing we can do. Children are not learning in them. Would you keep a hospital open that had a 29 percent mortality rate? No. But we keep schools open that have a 29 percent graduation rate.

TR: President Obama has encouraged other education reform ideas, such as expanding charter schools and tying teacher evaluation to student performance, through his signature Race to the Top program. What do you think of this approach?