Are Teachers' Unions Interfering With America's Education?
Steve Perry’s high-performing school has a new building, but old issues remain
By Dan D’Ambrosio
September 14, 2010
Last August, Dr. Steve Perry, principal of Capital Preparatory Magnet School, was looking forward to moving out of the space in downtown Hartford his school shared with Capital Community College into the former Bernard Brown School a few blocks away on Main Street.
A renovation of the school costing some $42 million in state funds was on budget but a little behind schedule, Perry said last week in a meeting room smelling of new carpet and furniture at the renovated school. Capital Prep relocated in July, and its 350 students have settled in well, according to Perry.
“We’re really excited about the new building,” he says.
Since opening in 2005, Capital Prep has had 100 percent of its students, most of whom are black or Latino, go on to four-year colleges. That has garnered Perry national attention, and frequent appearances on CNN as a special contributor on education.
“It’s a great opportunity to talk about Capital Prep and education in general,” says Perry.
But Perry is also still talking about another subject on which he has been very outspoken — his belief that teachers’ unions are holding back the progress of American education by putting job security ahead of student results.
“If you think about it, being a teacher is one of the most stable jobs you can find,” says Perry. “Over 95 percent of all Connecticut’s tenured teachers kept their jobs this year, so one would think 95 percent of our students would be performing at or above proficient, and that is not the case, especially in poor and minority populations.”
Perry wants teachers to live or die based on the performance of their students.
“If we look around we see we still have the same setting we had before where seniority supersedes performance of teachers as a group and as individuals,” he says. “When their children’s performance suffer, they do not [suffer]. The only people who suffer when children’s performance suffers are the children and the families who trust us to educate them.”
Andrea Johnson, president of the Hartford Federation of Teachers says Perry’s focus on student performance as the overriding measure of a teacher’s merit is oversimplified and unfair.
“There’s more than one way or reason a child does well or not well,” says Johnson. “There are a whole bunch of variables in there.”
In June, talks between Hartford Superintendent Dr. Steven Adamowski and the teacher’s union over a related issue — school-based seniority — broke down when Adamowski compared a proposal by a federal mediator to try the system in certain schools but not others to President Lincoln freeing only half the slaves.
School-based seniority would limit experienced teachers who are laid off to “bumping” lesser experienced teachers only in their own schools rather than system-wide. Adamowski had asked both the Hartford board of education and the state education department to consider the issue.
After Adamowski’s comment, Johnson says she wrote a letter to the state commissioner of education, Dr. Mark McQuillan and others, calling the comment “outrageous” and calling for the mediation to be put aside. The issue was not on the state board of education’s agenda for August, she said, and will likely not return to the agenda.