Sacramento, CA | The momentum is building. That was the message that Stand Up, the Sacramento based non-profit organization devoted to reforming education, touted in front of a packed house at the Guild Theater on Monday night.
The event was part of a series of monthly meetings organized by Stand Up to spotlight education improvement efforts in Sacramento. Previous events have brought in former California State Senator Gloria Romero to discuss the “parent trigger” law, the founder of Teach for America Wendy Kopp, and the co-founder of the Knowledge is Power Program, Mike Feinberg.
Local high school students acted as ushers alongside staffers from a variety of organizations including Sacramento READS!, Mayor Kevin Johnson’s third-grade reading initiative, and StudentsFirst, Michelle Rhee’s latest foray into education reform.
Monday’s guest speaker was CNN’s education correspondent Dr. Steve Perry, there to promote his new book Push Has Come to Shove, a warning cry to the “grownups” about our failing education system. Dr. Perry pulled no punches in his address to the mostly welcoming crowd. “Every day you drive by a failing school in your community,” he said, “and you know where they are, you have blood on your hands for not doing something.”
The frankness that won him accolades as “America’s most uncompromising principle” was on display as he excoriated communities for failing to shut down schools, principles for allowing unions to bully them, and absentee fathers to whom he pointedly asserted, “No, we can’t be friends.”
His fiercest criticism, however, was reserved for poor teachers. When asked in the post-presentation Q & A session about disproportionate numbers of minority students facing in-school suspension and other punishments, he laid the blame squarely on the educators. “If my detention hall is filled with student athletes who are doing well in other classes,” he said, “then maybe the problem is [the teacher]. You suck.”
If his presentation had a dose of harsh medicine it only endeared him to the crowd members even more, many of whom were educators and parents struggling with their own classrooms and schools. He fielded questions about boarding school alternatives to public school education, the tendency to blame parents, and the high illiteracy rate in Sacramento County.
Mayor Johnson addressed the audience briefly to tout the progress made in the reading initiative and to thank business partners who adopted schools in which they spent time and money to assist education efforts. In particular, Old Soul Co. was applauded for hosting a book drive and encouraging employees to volunteer their time to read to students at Peter Burnett Elementary School.
Other speakers included the Eric Lerum, the Vice President of National Policy at StudentsFirst, who ran down national mission goals of the organization, and the oldest volunteer in Sacramento READS!, former Queen of the Rose Parade Margaret Huntly. Her personal journey, as a 90-year old former school teacher who still goes back to the classroom to volunteer, drew perhaps the most enthusiastic applause of the event.
The statistic that most participants will walk away with was pointed out by Sacramento Reads earlier in the evening, that “only 37% of our third-grade children are reading at grade-level; the flip-side of that coin is that 63% are not.” Dr. Perry later took the opportunity to expand on that point. “If we are to have a real conversation about this issue, we have to recognize that some of us in here aren’t reading as well as we should either.”