Earlier today, Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE) staged a protest against Noble Street Charter High Schools. PURE is seeking legal action against Noble Street’s practices of charging a student $5.00 for every 4 demerits he or she earns. If PURE’s mission really is “to support and assure a high-quality public education for all children,” they need to forgo this unproductive attempt to sue Noble Street who–whether they like it or not–has some of the highest ACT scores and over 8,000 applications for its schools each year.
The mayor recently praised Noble Street schools and, some people are telling me (I haven’t watched the video), that he bashed the Chicago Teachers’ Union. The latter is probably what sparked the protest.
I visited Noble Street’s original campus in 2004 and here’s what I saw. Orderly students–not in a penal system way–but pleasant students who moved to class quickly. Their shirts where tucked in; their blouses and pants weren’t tight; the belts held their pants at their waists. When I visited a classroom, a young man greeted me at the door and shook my hand. He explained the focus of the lesson that day and after a few minutes, he told me that he had struggled with Noble Street’s expectations but now he was doing better in school.
Mike Milkie never shied away from articulating the focus of his school. He told me straight out: “discipline.” We may think of discipline with negative connotations and images of yard sticks slamming on desks. But there’s also the discipline of learning, of perseverance, of decision making. This is the discipline that takes organizations and the people in them from good to great.
So what are the Noble Street’s expectations? Students earn merits for performing above and beyond in the areas of citizenship, behavior, kindness, or school upkeep. This doesn’t sound like it merits a lawsuit.
They earn one demerit for these actions:
- tardy to school
- tardy to class
- dress code violations
- foul language
And there are others. They can earn four demerits for serious actions like cutting class and cheating.
I’ve worked in schools with vague and weak discipline systems that result is wasted time because students are not in uniform. Therefore, the student leaves class to borrow a shirt from the main office, then takes it off next period, and the conversation happens again with another teacher:
“Where’s your uniform shirt?”
“I don’t have one.”
Or students arrive to class late regularly and they get marked tardy.
Or they cut class.
All of this becomes a tedious record-keeping nightmare for the teachers who have to tally tardies and keep meticulous anecdotal notes instead of planning engaging lessons.
Many people argue that high schools are not preparing students for the real world, but Noble Street’s discipline practices are. If our library books are late, we get fined. If we pay our credit card late, we get fined. If we run a red light, we get fined. IF–these fines are not required.
My son attends an outstanding charter school (yes, I’m Latino but no it’s not UNO), and I value the discipline system there. Every day, his name starts on yellow. He needs to be safe, respectful, and ready to learn. If he goes above and beyond this, his name goes to blue, then to green. If he’s not, his name gets moved to orange, then red.
This has helped me as a parent, even though I still struggle sometimes, to use a common language at home. My son is six years old and he understands and can explain his school’s expectations. More importantly, he knows when people violate these. “Papi,” he’ll say when we’re at the park, for example, “that little boy is not being peaceful.” My son knows not to play with him.
Not all charter schools or their practices are effective but Noble street’s demerit and detention system are. Furthermore, these are schools of choice that are tough to get in to. If PURE doesn’t like Noble Street, or charters schools in general, they can choose to send their kids somewhere else. If they’re angry at the mayor, they should be angry at him–not at successful schools.
Here are productive fights PURE should take on:
- A selective-enrollment high school on the Southwest Side with the words “college prep” in the title
- More park district programs in low-income neighborhoods that can accomodate the hundreds or thousands of young people in the community
- Increasing financial-aid opportunities for undocumented students with no criminal records, high grades, and good ACT scores
- Family workshops in low-income neighborhoods so parents of high-achieving students know about the selective-enrollment application process
- Fight so neighborhood students have the same access to technology that selective-enrollment students have
Parents regularly get criticized these days because they are not parenting. However, lots of Noble Street parents choose to accept these schools’ policies. If this helps these parents help their children–90% of whom are low-income–PURE needs to step away.
I went to PURE’s Web site to comment directly, but the comments section for the protest is “closed.”
To view channel 7’s coverage with a link to Noble Street’s handbook, follow this link: http://tinyurl.com/7e9rrua
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