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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."


A Noble Network Alumn of 2011 wrote 2 years 47 weeks ago

A Pround Alumn of Noble

The Noble Network is truly a blessing. If it were not for Noble I would not be where I am today.It has instituted in the me the values I need to be successful. Because of Noble I have the discipline to sit in class, be respectful, ask questions, study, do my homework, and speak with my professors.I will admit I was in detention a couple of times a year, but the money that I was charged did not nearly account for all the summer programs Noble has helped me pay for. Noble encouraged me to reach for the stars. It showed me that with hard work good things happen. It made me be a dedicated student. Not only did Noble educate me, but it educated my parents. Noble made my parents be involved in my education by making my mother aware of everything that happened. Because of this, my mother was also on me which motivated me to always try my best. Noble explains to parents what it is like when there students go away to college and helps everyone understand how to pay for college.They continue to help their alums which is something not every high school does. Noble encouraged me to go to a college that was far away because it would allow me to try something new. I can say that it was a great decision. I am doing well and am growing to be an independant and responsible young lady who is proud to say that I am a Latina from Chicago who is just as bright as any other person who attends Connecticut College. Because of Noble I will not be part of a statistic of students who drop out of high school or college. I will be part of the statistic that shows that it is possible to come from Noble, go to college and be a successful person. THANK YOU NOBLE ♥

Sam wrote 2 years 47 weeks ago

Suspension for murder

Be serious. If you read the Student Code of Conduct, a student is removed for murder and anything in the Group 6 section (the most severe). The student is suspended 10 days, referred for expulsion, and for the safetey of everyone, an emergency removal is processed immediately. The problem is not the SCC, the problem is that CPS does not support deans, teachers, and administrators that ask for removal of students that are problems.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 47 weeks ago

Let's Be Real

It's so orderly and quiet because if a child doesn't tie his shoes, sit up straight, or make eye contact they are kicked out (after their parents have gone broke from paying all these ridiculous fees). I hope your son makes it through college after receiving an education in a Boot Camp.

Anonymous989 wrote 2 years 47 weeks ago

Noble discipline Yeah!!!

Rahm's kids go to Lab because he can afford it, and he knows CPS is a mess. Charter schools exist because most CPS schools are so bad that parents will gamble on a charter. Rules are rules. These kids are in high school. They should know how to follow rules and behave. If not, pay the price.

fact based parent wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

Noble has SEVEN of the top

Noble has SEVEN of the top ten highest performing high school within Chicago. The average ACT score at Noble is 20.3 and 17.2 at CPS. The average instructional hours at Noble consist of 1,280 hours and ONLY 873 hours at CPS. 85% of Noble’s 2011 class enrolled in college with 78% of them being first generation college students. Integrate all this with a strong and effective disciplinary program and you have success! Discipline and respect have roots at home. Parents should concentrate on nurturing their roots instead of criticizing a successful program. As a parent, the CHOICE is easy! I thank CPS for what it is doing but it is NOT ENOUGH!! All I ask of CPS is to show me results and not excuses! Let your number speak and NOT your excuses! I can hear Noble but I can't hear CPS.

fact based teacher wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

First, Noble does not operate

First, Noble does not operate 7 of the top 10 high schools in the city. That is flatly inaccurate.

Noble also selects its students, targets students and families with marketing, kicks out or "counsels out" students that don't conform socially or can't perform academically, removes students who can't afford their particular brand of "discipline", serves lower percentages of English Language Learners and students with IEPs, enrolls less than 40% of its students from the neighborhoods in which the buildings reside, limits overall enrollment in each school, limits class sizes, expels students at three times the rate of traditional schools, etc., etc., etc.

The charge of Noble charter schools is to educate only those who fit their particular niche of boot-strap-pulling, no-excuses, parent-supported model.

The charge of traditional public schools is to educate *everyone*.

Given the huge differences in rules for charter schools they *should* do better. They are essentially the modern version of Catholic schools for those who can't afford it. They are simply not comparable to traditional neighborhood schools.

xian wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

About fighting for civil rights

The whole point of civil rights is that people of color get to choose what to fight for with their time and energy. Not you.

This is the civil rights struggle of our generation. You are on the wrong side.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 15 weeks ago

Breaking the Curse of the Willie Lynch Parent African American

My 6th grader is going to GCCP Gary Comer College Prep. I can not sleep at night knowing my child has to attend this school. Only to be cruitinize by these Europeans and The one African American Principal Who one day i saw hair not comb (weave) Wearing tube pants and t shirt hoodie on a friday as a typical attire for weekend and she's the Principal of the school . Requiring more than normal school requirments from the Students . I seen children lugging gym shoes to lunch room quiet in the halls with no pen dropped. obvisiously they can not go to there lockers but once a day. They were starring at me as if they were trying to say all i could feel is their overwhelming slience (Pain). Most of them. Where have you ever went to a school and the halls filled with children felt like some sort of lock up Prison. My 6th grader not allowed to go to restroom with out recieving a demerit unless it's restroom time . So she holds it ...causing her self to have bladder infection. I spoke to someone and they said she needs a doctors statement. Also she doesn't drink milk she drinks soy. She's been at the school for a month . The office personnel responds to me we need another doctor's statement. My child is 11years old and has never had milk in school. (Why didnt't they attend to the needs of her from the previously transfer or at least ask me to produce statement during registration. ) They want our children to adhere to the rules of noble mr. and mrs. milkly reform and make them better slaves mentally preparing them for how they should behave as adults to Whites. In my opinion but also in my experience. Im not a scholar at explaining this ...I just know what my heart feels and my eyes witnessed. Only for the silence of the children have allowed me to keep sending my child to their institution for her Safety ... But somethings unsaid have now made me see is not always Better or Provinding A Safe Haven For Learning. I wonder in the Horror Stories that we here from the news media whereas the shootings involving students came from this type of noble treatment or students who have had a stroke or heartattack from the pressure of the constant demerit system.I also wonder does these so called demerits show up for the h.s. students when applying for college. I am looking into other quality eduacation . I am sure i can find . I found this school ...very dissappointed ... 30 days 80 dollars and no text books .My Good Child no problems the best of my three racking up Lasalle's (to stay after school for 1 missing problem on page we don't know the answer too mr. milkys other idosycncrosy etc.) Told to Just put anything for missing problems . The superintendant needs an enema and anybody who has signed up for this type of work in the school system.

Conerned teacher wrote 2 years 13 weeks ago

Stop making excuses and lowerin expectations for our students

Bottom line: The Noble network has high expectations for its students. If your son is receiving 30 detentions, then he should not be privileged by remaining at a school that will surely put him on the path to success where there are students on wait lists to get into school like these all around the country, students who would do anything and fight to achieve and succeed to have the opportunity to attend this school. The Noble network's behavior policy mimics their high academic expectations and only settling for the absolute best from our students.

Part of the problem of our education system are those who want to lower expectations and make excuses. If my son received 30 detentions for not making eye contact, I would tell him that this is a sign of respect and something he will be expected to do in the real world to a boss or employer so you better do it. If he was falling asleep, I would assess my parenting expectations for going to bed at a timely manner and getting enough exercise and nutrition.

STOP MAKING EXCUSES FOR OUR STUDENTS AND TRYING TO GET EXPECTATIONS LOWERED. Make our students live up to the values and expectations that are going to enable them to compete with more privileged students throughout the country and world.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 13 weeks ago

most schools

most schools dont even get to suspend a kid for punching a teacher???

StudentsLast wrote 1 year 50 weeks ago

Infraction Transaction

NYC loved this idea of fining students so much, they're stealing the idea #satire

gail wrote 1 year 29 weeks ago

thank you and right on!

I think we need to have parents to start parenting their children. Period! I appreciate this post. I am sick and tired of "dead beat" parents that love to blame teachers and enable their children.

I am a public school teacher of 29 years and am leaving because of parents that are unable or unwilling to support their children's education, not to mention lack of support from adminstrators for outlandish behavior from students. These misbehaving students are interferring with the education of other students that actually WANT to learn! I am applying to a charter school this year. I want to teach, not babysit! Thank you!

gail wrote 1 year 29 weeks ago

thank you

I agree! I have been a public school teacher for 29 years and am now applying for a charter school. Maybe those kids and families that want to learn, can!

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