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The race for City Hall

Jobs and schools promise to be top issues in next year’s city elections. The mayor’s education agenda faces its toughest test in the African-American communities that gave him strong support in 2011.

Charter discipline policy under fire

Parent Donna Moore says Noble Network of Charter Schools' strict discipline code caused her son, a student at Gary Comer College Prep, to rack up more than 30 detentions during the 2010-11 school year. As a result, he is currently repeating his freshman year.

The civil rights advocacy group Advancement Project is considering a legal challenge to the discipline policy of Noble Street Charter School campuses, which charge students $5 each time they are issued a detention.

“As civil rights lawyers, we are exploring our options to challenge this practice,” said Advancement Project staff attorney Alexi Nunn Freeman.

Critics of the Noble Street schools – which include Voices of Youth in Chicago Education and Parents United for Responsible Education – said at a Monday news conference that the practices push students out of school and asserted that Noble does not accommodate families that can't pay.

They also announced the results of a Freedom of Information Act request showing that the Noble Network of Charter Schools, which is a nonprofit organization, collected more than $188,000 in detention and behavior-class fees during the 2010-11 school year -- and nearly $387,000 since 2008-09.

Detention rates were highest at Rowe-Clark Math and Science Academy, which averaged 16 detentions per student in 2010-11 and collected nearly $29,000 from detention fees -- or more than $80 per student, according to an analysis of data provided by Advancement Project. They were lowest at Gary Comer College Prep, where fees averaged less than $4 per student.

Catalyst Chicago and WBEZ reported in fall 2010 that charter schools hold on to fewer students than non-selective magnet schools, and have an expulsion rate three times higher than neighborhood schools. Though some parents appreciate the strict discipline, others feel their children have been pushed out of charters. (CPS policy allows charters to write their own discipline codes.)

The Noble Network, which runs Noble Street Charter School campuses, is one of the district’s biggest charter networks, with 10 campuses serving 6,543 students.

Donna Moore, a parent whose son is in his second year at Gary Comer College Prep, said he racked up more than 30 detentions last year, sometimes being issued one detention – or even a suspension – for falling asleep during a previous detention. Moore says none of the detentions were related to her son being disruptive or threatening school safety.

In addition to receiving detention (and, thus, having to pay a fee) for violating rules like having their shoes untied and bringing potato chips to school, Noble Street students can rack up demerits for failing to sit up, make eye contact, articulate clearly when talking or track a speaker with their eyes.

“My son began to spiral [down] both emotionally and academically,” Moore said, after learning that he would have to repeat freshman year because he had garnered so many detentions.

VOYCE members dressed in chef’s hats to poke fun at Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s promotion of Noble schools as having a “secret sauce” for student success.

“Just like the fast-food equivalent, people need to take a closer look at what’s in that secret sauce,” PURE director Julie Woestehoff said. She called the school’s methods “a dehumanizing discipline system that looks a lot more like reform school than college prep.”

Waivers, payment plans for families in need

However, Noble Network officials – including Kimberly Neal, the principal at Muchin College Prep in the Loop – say their schools make accommodations for families who can’t afford the fees. In all, 82 percent of the students at Muchin, and 89 percent of Noble Network students citywide, were eligible for free lunches during the 2011-12 school year, according to CPS data.

“It’s very few, because most of our parents can pay,” Neal says, even if they can’t do it right away. “Throughout the year, most of our parents are working or have some source of income.”

Neal says that the fees are a necessary part of the school’s focus on student success.

“An example we always give our parents is, if you’re late every day to work, would you still have a job?” she says. “We want to teach our scholars the skills needed to be successful in the workforce.”

Michael Milkie, superintendent of the Noble Network, says the group does not keep data on how many parents receive accommodations for the fees and that the network has no specific cutoff for when a family qualifies for a waiver.

He says hundreds of families received payment plans every year. However, only a few receive fee waivers for detentions.

“It’s not many families that have an issue with a nominal fee like that,” Milkie says, though he added that the waivers were more common among students with more than 12 detentions who are required to enroll in a $140 summer behavior class.

 “We don’t have students who are not promoted for inability to pay,” Milkie says.

He estimates that at most 1 percent of the network’s students are retained each year after hitting a set number of detentions (which was 33, and has now been changed to 36).

“We have high expectations for students in terms of academics, in terms of fitness, in terms of behavior. We believe what we’re doing is legal,” Milkie says. “For too long in this city, the students who behaved well have had educational dollars diverted from them to address the behavior of students who behaved poorly. We are diverting fewer dollars from those students who behave well. And therefore, you have very high performance in terms of test scores, attendance.”

A revamp of student discipline?

Several speakers at the press conference said there is a district-wide problem with harsh discipline, and called on CPS to rewrite its discipline code. (CPS says it does not have jurisdiction over charter school discipline rules.)

“Noble schools, like all of CPS, are still in the dark ages when it comes to how they treat students,” the Advancement Project’s Freeman said. “CPS, it is time for a change for all your schools, charter and neighborhood alike.”

VOYCE has been working with CPS in an effort to get changes to the student code of conduct, but organizer Emma Tai said the group was disappointed with the district’s response.

In an email, Chief Family and Community Engagement Officer Jamiko Rose told VOYCE that the goals of the policy revision would be to improve its “readability and accessibility” and increase schools’ “preventive and proactive options” for dealing with low-level violations.

Rose also indicated that the district would try to make changes “at all levels of the organization” to decrease reliance on suspensions, expulsions, and law enforcement and increase the use of restorative justice and skill-building interventions. (Despite being one of the first cities to include restorative justice officially in its discipline code, the district has long struggled with implementing such programs.)

Tai notes that the code already includes significant language about restorative justice for low-level behavior problems. VOYCE had hoped for more substantial changes, such as shortening the length of suspensions prescribed for each offense.

"CPS wants a student code of conduct that is both fair and just and is currently working to revamp its policy with the input of student voices," the district said in a statement. "As part of that process, we have convened a working group to assist us in the development of a new student code of conduct policy that will ensure consistent district-wide expectations, positive reinforcement of appropriate behavior, and tiered supports for students that are struggling with behavior issues."


Anonymous wrote 2 years 50 weeks ago

Does Strict Discipline Equal a Superior Education?

While these concerned groups and parents are questioning the fees, they also need to question the quality of education their children are receiving at these schools. Are they really being prepared to enter college and compete well enough to be successful in college?

Anonymous wrote 2 years 50 weeks ago

discipline at uic college prep-noble street charter school

As retired cps principal with grandson in school here, I object strenuously to the mistreatment of black and hispanic males at this school via the discipline policy. The majority of infractions leading to detentions are minor and not disruptive at all. In fact, the consequences are detrimental to the self-image of the students because they far outweigh the infraction. I am convinced that some of the teachers are unprepared to work with teenagers and overuse the discipline because they cannot handle the students as their classroom management skills aren't effective. Further,the discipline policy is definitely not consistent with regular cps policy which tries to ensure the rights of students via monitoring by the courts. I applaud Julie Westerhauf for looking into the frequent violation of student rights. I think that black and latino civil rights organizations should look into this matter. I believe that if these students were upper middle class, the parents would have tossed the administration out of office.

George N. Schmidt wrote 2 years 50 weeks ago

Noble Street's hypocrisy... And Rahm's

I helped review the original "Uniform Discipline Code" of Chicago Public Schools, worked with it while I taught at Amundsen High School and then used it every day when I was teaching and "security coordinator" at Bowen High School during the worst years of gang violence on the Southeast side (seven murders of our students or recently former students during one school year -- 1997 - 1998). My job was to write up the suspension paperwork on all major discipline problems. I am probably one of the few teachers in the USA who wrote up a discipline referral for murder (victim was Antwan Jordan in December 1997; there were four "shooters" all of whom we identified and had to suspend... I watched him die as part of my job and called in the "187" on the walkie talkie I carried...).

Every charter school should be required to follow the CPS Uniform Discipline Code (now called the "Student Code of Conduct"), not some exotic nonsense like Noble Street has been utilizing for ten years. The six categories of infractions outlined in the Code provide school administrators with enough flexibility to deal with real teenagers in the real world, not the fantasy world created — at the expense of children and Chicago's real public schools — by Rahm, his media script writers, and the hypocrites at Noble Street and among the millionaires who Ooooh and Ahhhh about Noble Street. That includes the Pritzkers.

Most schools will never see a "Category Six" discipline referral (which requires police action and a suspension), and most "Ones" and "Twos" should be handled as dealing with the silly stuff that children will do from time to time. Having written up students for suspension under just about all of the categories that were then in force under the Code, I can attest to the sanity of the approach that evolved over time in it.

The fact that Chicago's charter schools (not just Noble Street) have been allowed to get away with these hypocritical attacks on sanity for more than a decade is another example of why deregulation does not work. Charters have avoided almost every kind of so-called "accountability" in Chicago, and they are being exported across the USA based on the lies that originated here in Chicago. Whether it is a charter that segregated and excludes black kids (like most of the UNO charters), pads almost all of its data (Aspira), or covers up for some of the worst offenses (Perspectives), the charters have proved that, like Wall Street, these "free market" experiments were a mistake, and careful regulation is necessary.

The worst thing about what Noble Street has gotten away with (for more than ten years, by the way; they began forcing their kids out and back to Wells High School within two years after Michael Milikie left Wells and cherry picked the best kids) since the late 1990s is being part of the teacher bashing and union busting that became CPS policy by the middle of the first decade of the 21st Century. The recent escalation of Milkie's pushouts (most of whom have been landing at schools from Wells all the way west to Kelvyn Park, Grant North, and Steinmetz) should have been stopped years ago.

But it took Rahm Emanuel's crazy attack on accountability and the city's real public schools to finally bring together this tip of this iceberg. Thanks to everyone who is now beginning to report this scandal, but let's not forget that it's much bigger than Noble Street and that, since the "Chicago Miracle" has gone toxic across the USA thanks to Arne Duncan, we need to warn everyone else that when there is a Big Lie in corporate "school reform," it usually begins in Chicago and should be quarantined before it goes viral across the country and into the territories.

Principal wrote 2 years 50 weeks ago

They Knew

Charters Schools should be able to discipline students with demerits. Parents had a choice to send their children elsewhere. They should do so if not satisfied. What were the parents saying to their children when they were racking up the demerits. Too little, too late.

Red Emma wrote 2 years 50 weeks ago

What's so bad about red-hot chips?

What I'm hearing about the Noble disciplinary code baffles me. It seems to cover some things that make sense in a disciplinary code, like being on time (which, as one school official pointed out, is essential in the real world to keeping a job.)

Another batch of stuff seems useful in helping the student make a good impression (like sitting up straight, and making eye contact when talking), but doesn't have much to do with discipline, and would be better taught in a "life skills" class.

Some of it is just the same old petty stuff we all grew up with, that never made much sense but that we ultimately got used to, like the ban on chewing gum, and the insistence on having one's shoes tied and one's belt buckled.

Some of it, like putting quotation marks around someone else's words, is actually a matter of academic ethics, and would be better taught in a more general course on that subject.

And some--like the ban on "openly carrying red-hot chips" makes absolutely no sense at all, so far as I can tell. What's so bad about red-hot chips? Is this a blow against too-conspicuous black culinary culture, like having a preference for watermelon or fried chicken? Is the administration concerned that the chips could be ground to powder and used as a weapon to be thrown in somebody's eyes? Or is this a health issue, in which case, how are red-hot chips any more fatty and salty than any other kind of chips?

Lumping all of these concerns together under the heading of "discipline" will only give discipline a bad name among students with a keen eye for nonsense, and trivialize genuinely serious issues like plagiarism. Most of the protestors seem indignant mainly about the monetary fines for breaches of this code. I'd like to see more serious analysis of the code itself, even if the fines were removed.

Rod Estvan wrote 2 years 50 weeks ago

I would just add sitting up

I would just add sitting up straight and paying attention is simply not alway possible for some students with disabilities. There has been trouble in at least two cases over the years that I know of where students with ADHD issues combined with Learning Disabilities have been issued demerits at Noble street schools.

There are however some students at Noble street with LD who the school has accomodated and educated. But the school has great difficulty working with students with disabilities who cann't comprehend all of the rules the school has.

Rod Estvan

Anonymous wrote 2 years 50 weeks ago

Let's focus on the real issues

The real issue is why are students getting so many detentions? My son goes to Noble and not once has he paid a fine or served detention. I set expectations for him and he follows them, it's as simple as that. People expect the schools to raise their children. It doesn't work like that. Thats the reason why CPS in now in a crisis situation. Anyone who's ever stepped foot in a Noble school can immediately feel the difference between CPS and Noble. The hallways are orderly, there are few disruptions in the classroom, and for the most part students are very well behaved. If students aren't doing well there, parents need to take a look in the mirror. My kid is soaring there!

larry martin wrote 2 years 50 weeks ago

Let's take some responsibility for our actions

I have two daughters that attend GCCP. And eventhough I don't always agree with some of the actions taken at the school. We must instill in or childrenthat there are consequencesfor ouractions. It's not a prerequisite to understand nor agree with the disciplinary rules set by Noble Street Charter but once you signed the sheet that'sgiven out at orientation in the beginning of the school year that explains the schools expectations of both parent and student you should not have a problem abiding by them. Both of my daughters are in the top five of there classes. And rearly have had issues as far as discipline. Parents we can't continue to run and defend our children when they break the rules. It may be chewing gum or talking back to teachers now. But if we don't drill them with the fact that there are indeed consequencesfor there actions only God knows what or who we may be standing before trying to make excuses for them later.

xian barrett wrote 2 years 50 weeks ago


It's probably just a quirk of the ordering of comments, but I really am disappointed to see the follow-up to Rod's comments with the idea that we need to "focus on the real issues".

The fact that the norms that students must agree and conform to at Nobel St. schools are culturally and physically difficult for some to conform to, and it's Nobel's way or the highway IS the issue.

The crisis situation in Chicago Public Schools cannot be blamed on the children. It's a beautiful recipe of elitism, antipathy, patronage, hubris and corruption that has gotten us to where we are, and Nobel Street does its part to contribute to that recipe.

I say this not to make excuses for children, but as an educator who has gotten far more out of many youth that these so-called "every child can learn" advocates have already pushed out and deemed failures than they get out of their ranks of conformists.

The "ability" to blindly follow authority is not a virtue, it is the height of human folly.

Mr. Johnson wrote 2 years 50 weeks ago

Be forthright

I understand the above parents sentiment. I do think that it is a shame that many students who are able to behave properly, are interested in learning, and are motivated are often held back by their peers who disrupt the class and make it difficult to learn in some public schools. At the same time, I feel this article brings up some valid points. I don't think the Noble schools are a bad thing, persay. But I do believe that Noble, CPS, the mayor, and many others need to be HONEST about how Noble schools are able to achieve the high test scores/graduation rates, etc. The strict discipline standards are central to this success - without it they would not be nearly as successful. Noble schools are basically selective retention schools where kids who cannot adhere to their rules are pushed out. For example, if you get a certain amount of detentions you will not be promoted to the next grade regardless of your grades in your classes. Students in this situation could either repeat their grade, or they could take the credits from the classes you have taken to a non charter school and continue at grade level. Which choice do you think most of these students choose?

What we basically have here is a another level of selectivity in CPS. First you have the selective enrollment schools who skim the cream off the top in terms of test scores. Then, you have charter schools like Noble and others who are able to get rid of students who are unable or unwilling to adhere to the schools own student code of conduct that is many times more strict than the CPS code of conduct allows in a neighborhood school. Whoever is left is goes to a neighborhood school who need to accept EVERY student.

Now, if you want to have a multi-tiered system, fine. We can have that debate. But it is unfair to judge open enrollment neighborhood schools against charter schools like Noble. What would happen if Noble ran every school in the city, and there was no one for them to kick kids out to? Then what? Furthermore, Noble school teachers are non-unionized, and the schools' achievements are used to justify closing unionized schools, and in general to serve the argument that bad tenured teachers and their corrupt, self serving union is the problem with education in Chicago

But the fact that charters like Noble play by a different playbook then neighborhood schools doesn't stop CPS and Mayor Emmanuel from touting Noble and other charters as an example for neighborhood schools to follow. Take this quote from the mayor:

“You’ve got a school system [Noble] that is giving you graduation rates we would marvel at — almost double the system-wide [rate]. A college acceptance and a college attendance [rate] that we would actually call a touchdown in the city. Those are the results and the data you should also look at. When you want to have a perspective, I’m not gonna look through one peephole.”

That's fine, Mayor Emmanuel, but YOU are looking through a peephole yourself, one that blocks your view of HOW Noble achieves their results.

Charter schools should not be used to justify the closing of neighborhood schools, nor the vilification of honest, hard-working teachers in Chicago's neighborhood schools, nor should they be used as to weaken the Chicago Teacher's Union. We need to remember that public schools are meant to teach ALL students.

Schools do everything wrote 2 years 50 weeks ago

Our regular--no extra funded, CPS neighborhood school will begin

to follow the Noble Street Charter discipline fines system--Do not worry CPS—we will still follow the UDC, but we will charge for infractions—it costs us to do in-school suspension; it costs us to pay for someone to monitor detention. And we have to fundraise all the time—this will be our fundraiser now—$$$ payments for infractions. Great idea Noble! Our LSC is all for it. We will raise more money than Nobel and we will translate the rules in Spanish too. We will also rewrite the rules so all of our special ed students understand them too.
(CPS— gives charters their money from our county taxes collected and taxes from Illinois—Noble is a PUBLIC school under CPS jurisdiction.) Neighborhood schools should get to do the same!
We begin at the end of this month. We will let you know how it goes.

Schools do everything wrote 2 years 50 weeks ago
Anonymous wrote 2 years 50 weeks ago

All Noble Street campuses

All Noble Street campuses except for Rowe Clark had an average ACT composite scores of 20 or above.

Curioser wrote 2 years 50 weeks ago

“You’ve got a school system

“You’ve got a school system [Noble] that is giving you graduation rates we would marvel at — almost double the system-wide [rate]."

CPS system-wide rate? 73.8%.

Noble's graduation rates are 140%? That's education reform we can ALL believe in!

George N. Schmidt wrote 2 years 50 weeks ago

Chicago charters should follow the Code of Conduct

I can't understand why someone claiming to support the charter schools would comment anonymously, but that's another story for another time.

Since I covered the story about the conversion of Good Counsel High School to "Chicago International Northtown" back in the early days of Arne Duncan's administration, I've been asking why Chicago doesn't require its charter schools, as a condition of getting (or renewing the charters) to follow the Code of Conduct (originally, the Uniform Discipline Code) of CPS. And there has never been a good answer, except the usual excuses, viz., that Chicago charters can get away with concealing and obfuscating on just about any major public issue, behind the smokescreen of "deregulation." ("How dare you tell us entrepreneurial pioneers what to do and how to do it?!!!?" just like Wall Street when its products included things like "Synthetic Collateralized Debt Obligations"...).

Chicago Public Schools can establish reasonable transparency requirements for the charter schools and EMOs (example: where can one find out how much Mr. and Mrs. Michael Milkie are being paid this year? For every person working in the real public schools, that's public information. You might disagree with paying Jean-Claude Brizaard a quarter million dollars and giving him $35,000 in "relocation expenses", but at least you can find it in Board Report 11-0622-RS35 (June 22, 2011) on the CPS website under Actions.

The Milkie's (and hundreds of others working in the charters) keep their pay and perks secret, then claim that Noble Street, in order to sustain its "Noble" mission, has to milk poor and working class kids of cash. Says who? Based on what? Until the charters are required to be fully and completely transparent -- and that includes all pay and perks of everyone either employed or doing contract work for them -- there is no way to discuss whether it's reasonable for Noble Network to be ripping off these children for slouching, etc.

Now, back to the Uniform Discipline Code (under whatever names it's currently going).

There is no reason for Chicago's charters to be allowed to promulgate and enforce rules for student behavior that would be illegal in any real public school district in Illinois. None. If the Code of Conduct -- without fines -- is good enough for Steinmetz (where I taught for a time, and where my wife teaches today) and 450 other real public schools, why should the charters get away with a draconian pseudo-discipline policy which actually is a smokescreen behind which they can force out kids who will lower their numbers?

This stuff is as old as the "turnaround" corporate nonsense of the 1990s. My favorite among those crooks was Al Dunlap, who finally got caught after running a number of corporations into the ground as "Chainsaw Al." (People who follow corporate news will remember how Dunlap was caught cooking the books at Sunbean, then his whole scam, which lasted for a decade, was exposed by Business Week and others...). Anyone who can manipulate inventory (in the corporate world) or force out the most risky kids (like Milkie's been doing since he left Wells High School with a handful of its "best" students to start Noble Street) can cook the books and then make questionable claims based on a reuctio ad absurdum — the kinds of "data" that pass for reality for corporate school reformers and Chicago's current mayor.

At the least, there needs to be a serious review of all the loopholes the Chicago Board of Education has built into the charter school scams across Chicago the past 15 years. Not just on the "discipline" end, but across the board, including those $1 per year leases (how do we get a school building for the Substance offices for a dollar a year; call it crony capitalism and not edupreneuership and you're more accurate...) and all of the corporate millions that are being pumped into each of these marketing tricks while the city's real public schools are starved and made to look bad.

Nobody has ever demanded to know what's so bad about the current CSP discipline policy that an outfit like Noble Street, financed with public dollars, can get away with putting into place what amounts to a fascist form of educational Ordnung and then be cited, across the USA and by Chicago's mayor, as being some kind of model. Next thing you know we'll add to those banners Rahm's collecting with one that reads, "Arbeit Macth Frei..."

Oh, I forgot, that kind of efficiency and "discipline" is not supposed to be cited in these discussions, even if the eugenics and social Darwinian ideologies behind the great wave of that stuff in the first half of the 20th Century is the same as the "Noble", Rahm, and Race to the Top nonsense we're facing in the first part of the 21st Century.

Rod Estvan wrote 2 years 50 weeks ago

Mr. Milkie on WTTW

Last night on the Chicago Tonight program Mr. Milkie admitted that only two thirds of Noble freshman remain in the school to graduation. So clearly this model of behavior modification has its costs. I will be the first to admit that Noble Street is doing some things right in particular teaching to standards linked directly to the ACT test.

But the truth is that middle class families in Chicago will not for the most part will not enroll their children in the Noble network. Even more interesting is the fact that the location of the original Noble campus is now largely gentrified and becoming more and more white, virtually none of these families consider this school an option for their children. Does anyone really think Mayor Emanuel's wife for example would allow any of their children to attend Noble?

Noble Street is a school designed to create discipline and order for children of the working poor. The idea that working class children must be broken from disruptive habits is an old one in American education. Upper income parents for the most part will not submit their children to the Noble method in order to come out with an ACT score that might get their child into Illinois State but not Northwestern.

Rod Estvan

Anonymous wrote 2 years 50 weeks ago

RE: Be forthright

Very, very well said Mr. Johnson. Noble schools do good work for the students they keep and serve. However, they need to be more transparent when it comes to their discipline policies and how these affect their results. They do not have the same student body as most traditional public schools, and most traditional public schools would not be able to enforce the Noble discipline code for all students. It's only when charter school leaders begin to openly make these distinctions that we'll be able to focus on what supports our neighborhood schools need rather than just pointing fingers and making comparisons to their so called higher performing counterparts.

Go Family wrote 2 years 50 weeks ago

Discipline Problems with Families

This usually means that the families do not enforce discipline at home and rather than challenge the child, they would rather ignored them, not showing the child the correct things such as respect others, follow the rules of society and be a good citizen.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 50 weeks ago

Pay and Perks not Secret

Charter school pay is public. Check and click on "Full Public Data Set." You have to sort out the charter schools, but you will find the pay, job title, education level, and a lot more information about all the certified personnel in the state who are covered by either the Chicago or Illinois teacher retirement systems. For administrators who are not in the retirement system, information may be available on the internet by searching for the IRS-990 forms filed by all not-for-profits on on the Attorney General's website (or, for forms not yet scanned by the AG, via freedom of information request) for the IL-990 forms.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 50 weeks ago

Who is Protesting This?

The protesters, by and large, seem to be not connected with Noble Street. One mother objects to her son's receiving "more than 30 detentions" in a year, but everyone else in the news stories comes from outside Noble. If you think about it, that mother's son almost had to be trying to get in trouble. It takes a minimum of 4 demerits to get a detention, so that's at least 120 demerits. There are 180 school days. That means an average of at least 2 demerits every three school days. If my kid came home with that kind of record, even in a very strict system, I would tell him to work harder. and would try to help him find ways he could play by the rules. If the Noble Street discipline program were really that bad, students and parents would be voting with their feet. Instead, there are many applications for each seat and a long waiting list. Students at these schools perform well and go to college. Instead of complaining and trying to relax Noble Street's rules, these outsiders should be wondering how they could adapt the system to failing CPS schools.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 50 weeks ago

Suspension for Murder

It's telling that the CPS Uniform Disciplinary Code punishes murder by suspension. I know the students George Schmidt is talking about probably did not return to school because they were in custody, but some offenses should result in expulsion, and murder is an obvious example. Urging the lax CPS discipline system on schools that are succeeding at a much higher level does not make sense.

Joan Staples wrote 2 years 49 weeks ago

Charter Discipline Under Fire

I am long retired, but I worked with teen-agers with learning disabilities and reading problems in a highschool for 7 years. I also worked at the elementary level. Before teaching in CPS I worked in a wealthy suburb and at a university reading clinic. Most young people need structure, particularly those with learning problems, but they also need respect. Detentions and punitive techniques should be a last resort. Pushing young people out is not an acceptable technique for helping them to learn. It is mentioned that "restorative justice" programs are supposed to be an alternative to what has been described. Certainly, they take work to be put into place. Most effective procedures for teaching and learning take work. The goal should be to help ALL to learn, not just some. We tried to find really good alternative programs to help our students who had trouble in a regular school. They were few and far between when I taught; I believe they are even fewer today. Students with problems need more attention, not less. In addition, teen-agers (I don't know the ages of the young people getting detentions and push-outs) tend to push against authority anyway. Therefore, creative ways to engage them should be used. I was not a major general type of teacher, but I was able to help students with problems, some with "behavior" problems, with both their academic and other difficulties. The other thing that troubles me about the disciplinary techniques being described, is that they are authoritarian, and it is not clear that students are learning to be self-disciplined. The parents who describe their children's success at Noble, have apparently been able to help their children to become self-disciplined. Fine, but they were probably that way to begin with. I sympathize with the students who do not want to be in a classroom where disruptive or needy students take time away from learning, but with creative methods to engage all, with teachers who are properly trained to teach all kinds of students, and with support, such as social workers and the programs we had at Gage Park (not a magnet school and integrated under a lottery system) when I taught there, from community groups that helped teen-agers with their problems, it is possible to teach almost all students in regular public schools. I am also troubled by the attitude that assumes that families that are poor or who come from black or hispanic communities are dumb, weak, or incapable of governing themselves. Has it ever occurred to those in power that, not only are these communities filled with lots of potential, but its residents are survivors, who could teach many of us how to live?! Yes, some folks resort to violence, drugs, etc., but the fate of someone like Whitney Houston, reminds us that these are human problems, not just problems of class or race. I am a supporter of President Obama, and have been, from the beginning. But I do not support his education policies, and, even when he was our State Senator, I wrote letters to him about education. In the meantime, we in Chicago need to keep the pressure on our state legislature and mayor to make the Chicago system more equitable, and to support EFFECTIVE PUBLIC SCHOOLS FOR ALL.

George N. Schmidt wrote 2 years 49 weeks ago

CPS needs the charter transparency, and ISBE doesn't help much

It's really good to see this discussion developing here, thanks to Catalyst, and I'm glad to have had the time to be part of it, while covering the story myself and editing others' coverage. (My last story about Noble Street was covering Rahm Emanuel's pre-Christmas publicity stunt at the "Pritzker Campus", which we posted at back in December and which also ran, in part, in our January print edition).

But we need to get more clear about "transparency" regarding Chicago charter schools' funding, salaries, and other financial information. And it is not serious to suggest that someone should have to get this information through the ISBE website (where, if you try, you will notice it is very difficult to sort through and get to). This information should be provided by CPS on the CPS website and in every CPS budget iteration (the annual "Proposed Budget," the "Final Budget", the CAFR, and by posting, roughly every three months, both the "Position File" and the "1099 File." Beyond those two, which will give the public access to how most of the public dollars going into Chicago charters are spent, there will need to be the private dollars being poured in (often via outfits like the New Schools Fund) from wealthy people into selected charters and non-public public schools.

But for now we should be glad to settle for two documents:

First, CPS should be required to publish, on a regular basis (I would suggest quarterly) the "Position File" for all charter schools. Within CPS, the "Position File" is the spreadsheet that tracks, in real time, every full- or part-time employee of CPS. At Substance, we have been getting these documents for more than a generation, first on paper and over the past decade or so, in digital form. The latest iteration of that information provided to Substance under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) came in October, and I am currently waiting for the most recent one. The charter schools should be required to maintain -- and provide publicly via CPS -- the same information. After all, at this point Chicago's charter schools are (a) the second largest school system in Illinois, (b) a strange sort of "model" for the nation (just ask Rahm when he pushes his Noble propaganda talking points, which are also shared from the White House, and (c) getting nearly a half billion dollars a year from the CPS budget, without any of the same financial accountability required of every real public school.

So that "Position File" can be made a requirement, the charters can be required to post that information in the same format CPS uses for the real public schools, and then the public can begin to have part of the debate based on facts, not marketing materials such as those provided from every charter school at the recent "New Schools Expo."

Of course, the Position Files is incomplete, because CPS is also spending a great deal of public money on consultants and others who are not employees (thereby receiving an annual W-2 form) but "1099s" (receiving the 1099 form). Contractors and consultants should be rendered transparent from CPS for both public school and charter school people.

After all, just about every day Rahm Emanuel is announcing that another small piece of information is supposedly available to the public supposedly at the City of Chicago's website.

So why have Mayor Transparency aided and abetted the charter school financial coverup -- to the tune of nearly a half billion dollars per year -- down the street at CPS?

Back to the critics, and the claim that these people are not "Noble..." Well, for anyone who has been covering this story the past years (or decade, in the case of the time since Michael Milkie left his teaching job at Wells High School to become an "edupreneur"), there have been dozens of children and young adults who have been pushed out of the Noble Street schools. This began with those who were sent "back" to Wells High School in the early days and has continued since, year after year.

Part of the problem is that the cult-like treatment of these "failing" kids at Noble Street makes it difficult for them, at first at least, to talk about what was done to them. Additionally, their parents are usually saddened by the "failure" of the children (notice how many of the comments defending Milkie are targeting the parents for not effectively disciplining their children). As a result, the majority of the families that have been through this traumatic experience (first, the kid doesn't "measure up," then the family is too poor to pay up) are not likely to come forward publicly with the facts. Shame. Powerlessness. The desire to protect their children. All of these factor into it.

Over the years, I've interviewed parents (and some students) who have been through this totalitarian treatment, not only from Noble Street, but more than in the others. One of my favorites was a parent (who eventually refused to go on the record) who told me that her son once got a demerit from a Noble teacher who showed up at their home and observed the kid with slouching jeans at the home! There are hundreds of these stories, and now that they are going to be coming out, thanks to PURE, Voyce, and the other groups, they will become eventually as available to the public, at Substance and elsewhere, including in video form as the propaganda like "Two Missions" was made available by those who want to undermine the unions, defund real public schools, and privatize as much as possible to the detriment of democracy and our common purposes.

Stay tuned. These stories are just beginning to be told, and each one is harsher than those that went before it. Although Rahm Emanuel is still singing the praises of the "noble" mission of Milkie and Noble Street, and although that egregious Juan Williams piece of propaganda has been archived for study, we'll see how long Rahm can avoid answering some factual questions about the ignoble side of Noble Street.

The Emperor wrote 2 years 49 weeks ago


While I can understand what the school is trying to do, some of the actions that result in infractions are retarded. In my HS Senior year when I got detention, all I did was sit down, and pull out a book and start reading. The Vice Principal told me to put it away and I did, but as soon as she left to go to her office, I took it back out.

I mean, what was she gonna do to me? Give me more detention? Some threat, especially when you have plenty of time to kill and enjoy pushing buttons.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 49 weeks ago

Noble Charter Schools Discipline Policy

Can "educational reform" get any more twisted and perverse than fines for "misbehavior"? $200,000 in the pockets of a non-profit charter school chain? It won't fly. This policy will be stopped by the courts.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 49 weeks ago

Best Practices?

This is an example of the miracle approach to the teaching-learning situation that Charters have pitched to CPS? Alert me when they install the stocks in the playground.

Brenna Scanlon wrote 2 years 49 weeks ago

U of C lab school

If noble street schools are so great then why do Rahm's kids go to Lab school? How would he like for his kids to be told to sit up straight, be fined five bucks for untied shoes or eating chips? I pick a little girl up there everyday and know the school well. It's the antithesis of Noble Street. Lab parents, including Rahm's, would never stand for their kids to be treated this way. Noble street has a civilizing mission steeped in racism and white supremacy.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 49 weeks ago


Really? A civil rights group is spending their time thinking about suing Noble? That's a high priority? Are there not much more pressing civil rights issues than the fact that there is a school system comprised of hundreds of dedicated teachers working to improve the life trajectories of underserved students?

Plus, let's review. Noble students and parents sign a contract that states they understand the discipline code beforehand. They have the choice to attend a noble school. Yet an outside group can sue them? Isn't that kind of like me suing a fast food chain for making people fat? Nevermind that those people ate there of their own free will. If I worked at the Advancement Project I would go after fast food restaurants who actually have no interest in improving the lives of their consumers. Or better yet, if you want to stick with education I'd take a look at what civil liberties textbook companies or test makers are currently violating.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 49 weeks ago

Charter schools are push out schools

These practices are in place to push students out of schools like Noble and UNO! Comparing CPS schools to Charters is like comparing apples and oranges. CPS schools are not choice schools. Parents don't choose neighborhood schools they just fall into them depending on their geographical location. Likewise, CPS schools don't choose their children either. In my opinion, the testament of a true school is one that takes all students and inspires them to change! I have a child that left the charters feeling undeserving of a second chance, undeserving of a celebration for his academic success. He is not a failure and neither are the other students who have left these push out programs who claim that they have the recipe for success. Shame on you schools that hide your drop outs and your truants by sending students back to the neighborhood schools when they don't fit into your molded expectations. The truth is that all of the students who enter and leave these charters should be tracked because they too are a representation of the success or the failure of Charter Schools! The turnover rate/retention rate of students is what we should be looking at.

George N. Schmidt wrote 2 years 49 weeks ago

Anonymous commenting and courage

I have some respect for the people (including our mayor) who take responsibility for their lies, half truths, and misconceptions. Why, though, are some of the comments on this thread by "Anonymous" when they are so innocuous? Why the heck would one "anonymous" (with whom I would disagree) note that the families who bring their children to the charters "sign a contract..." and that makes certain things OK? The same anonmousy possible person also wonders why a civil rights group, during Black History Month, would take on Chicago charter schools. Why is that from "Anonymous" too?

On the other side, a different (we have to assume, but who can really know) "Anonymous" alleged that UNO pushes out students (just as the Nobility has been doing for a decade or more, as I've noted above) in order to goose up its numbers. Couldn't we all agree that democracy is better served when people are accountable for their words, even in Cyberspace?

I missed Rahm's publicity stunt at Noble Street "Comer" the other day. (Sadly, I'm still a bit limited in my work, but that's improving), but was amazed the he could pull an "Al Dunlap" (that's the old "Chainsaw Al" some of us have been writing about the following for more than a decade) with the less than noble Noble numbers game. Although Rahm's admirer Fran Spielman thinks Rahm's the "smartest guy in the room" (that Sun-Times puff piece really is a classic of slavish devotion, almost as if the newspaper and the reporter have a crush on our mayor, but that's another story), anyone can do the math that pushes out the Big Lie when Rahm talks about how Noble Street gets a "100 percent graduation rate..."

One hundred percent of what?

Although the Noble Street pushout rate isn't like the example below, let's use this one, for a basic lesson in Cooking the Books Math 101.

Noble Street "High School" X begins a 9th grade cohort in "Year One" with 100 kids.

Noble Street "High School" X enforces its lucrative but "strict" so-called discipline policy, and 90 of those kids are gone by 12th grade.

So, there are ten kids left in the Class of "Year Four" from the group that began in "Year One."

If we calculate the Nobility of the graduation rate using the survivors, then the Nobles have a "One hundred percent graduation rate..." (Ten graduated out of the ten who were left).

But if the denominator on that is what started in Year One, then the "Graduation Rate" becomes ten percent. Which is a closer reflection of the way the math should be done.

Noble isn't the only Chicago charter school that's been cooking its books this way, just the most dramatic because Rahm (and the ruling class since the days when the President of the United States was George W. Bush and our nemesis was "No Child Left Behind...) decided, for all those strange Hollywood reasons to prattle on, from the campaign through this week, about how "successful" Noble Street is.

Obviously, a guy who majored for a time in ballet might not have the number skills to figure this out, but somewhere out there someone is auditing all this nonsense, and at this point someone has to warn Rahm (as someone eventually warned Bill Clinton back in the day when Rahm was in the Monica Lewinsky White House, albeit at a lower "level" than he rose to with Barack Obama) that Chicago numbers are a danger when they go national. Someone is going to take a closer look, whether it's at Chainsaw Al's claims about the "turnaround" at Sunbeam (please look up Al Dunlap if you're missing this corporate bit of history), Paul Vallas's miracle claims about mayoral control (Bill Clinton praised the Chicago's Miracle of the late 1990s in two State of the Union addresses, until someone caught up with the facts and did a "Whoops!" and after that Clinton never praised Chicago's "school reform" again), or the latest Hollywood Rahm scripts praising Noble's nobility.

While I guess I wouldn't expect a "relationship banker" (who earned a mere $18 million in three years during his one foray into the private sector) to be able to read a spreadsheet critically, guys like that are supposed to have people around them to warn them when their narratives are diverging too far from reality.

Oh, but I forgot.

The day (before he left for South America) before Christmas when Rahm did that Noble Street Pritzker publicity stunt, Chris Mather had left City Hall's spin office rather abrutply, to devote more time to (was it "family"?).

And that was before Mary Dempsey was pushed out of the libraries so Rahm could try some more cutting and union busting.

And of course several months after Rahm went off using those wonderful Rahm cool guy expletives in Karen Lewis's face.

Are we noticing a pattern of testosterone poisoning -- or at least an overdose -- here?

And is it true that the secret autobiography of our macho mayor will be called "Don't worry your pretty little head about it... Governing's a Guy Thing." Grrrrhhh....

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