PURE Doesn't Need to Protest Noble Street

PURE Doesn't Need to Protest Noble Street

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.


And again.

And again.

Or they cut class.

Nothing happens.

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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  • good post, ray -- very interesting to read your thoughts as a teacher and parent. / alexander

  • In reply to Alexander Russo:

    Thanks, Alexander.

  • In reply to Alexander Russo:

    Agreed. You have authority and experience to write on this, and I appreciate that you have. I am also happy your son has the opportunity to learn in a civil environment and is learning how to be a social person. I only hope more children in Chicago can have these same chances.

  • In reply to Richard Lorenc:

    Thanks, Richard. I and many of my colleagues work hard every day to make sure more students do.

  • Ray,

    I have been reading your blog for a couple of days and I like what I see.

    On this one I respectfully have to disagree. Many schools that utilize peer jury's or restorative justice techniques function well without harsh punishments. What about the charges that harsh discipline policies like these push kids/families out? Or that they disproportionately punish black and latino kids? If you're constantly punishing kids who don't fit in, are we really being inclusive of everyone or are we creaming the "best" from the top?

    This seems even more likely with the high ACT avg. You may recall that last year DePaul stopped requiring ACT's for admission because they found it too closely related to parent's income. This is evident in many of the SE high schools.

    My work with drop outs has shown me that most of the time behavior issues stem from feeling as if the curriculum does not include them. My charge to all schools is that the curriculum be more inclusive rather than overly euro-centric. For instance, in our system we treat kids that are Spanish dominant as if they have a disability rather than embrace the fact that they could be bi-lingual. I value structure and discipline in kids, but the structure must value all of our differences as well.

    I know the value of a orderly classroom but this seems to be punishing students for being turned off by the high-stakes testing world that our classrooms have become. I think you'll agree that we first need student buy-in and responsibility for their own education. Kids should be allowed to make mistakes, this is the learning/teachable moment. We need critical thought, not obedience.

    We should encourage everyone to work with the kid that's not being peaceful. It's not right to isolate people, especially kids. In the real world not everyone will be peaceful and they need to know how to deal with that. It's these playground lessons that will prepare them for life.

  • In reply to Eric:

    Eric, thanks for taking the time to respond and for reading my blog.

    Restorative justice programs and peer jury are valuable and, I would argue, essential approaches to reaching today's young people. However, these need to be reserved for the more damaging situations, not for being out of uniform or being tardy.

    More black and Latino kids are serving detentions at Noble Street schools but, statistically, they have to. The majority of their students is minority so these numbers are higher.

    I completely agree with the need to make curriculum relevant. My first teaching job was at an alternative high school and learning HAD to be meaningful if students where going to succeed. I also, however, saw the life skills that many of my students needed. They needed to understand that swearing was not an acceptable way to converse in school or at work. They needed to understand that opportunities could be taken away from them in the real world because of their sagging pants or super tight blouses. They needed to learn that they had to be present and on time. We worked hard to instill these skills along with the academic. Noble Street's curriculum is not at issue in this protest.

    Finally, I think that if students learn from their mistakes at school, they will make better decisions when they're in the real world (or the world outside of school). I would rather have students pay $5 for a combination of being tardy, wearing sagging pants, and swearing than lose a summer job or internship because of it.

    I hope this makes sense. It's a complicated issue. Thank you for continuing the conversation.

  • In reply to Ray Salazar:

    Thanks for the response Ray, it is indeed a complicated issue.
    I agree we need to teach them how to make better decisions.

    We live in a world where anyone who embraces different from the norm is judged negatively. Who makes those rules? Should we just accept them if they don't include us? Did Columbus discover America etc.?

    Sagging pants, tight blouses, and swearing will not be appropriate in the white collar world, and definitely not in an interview, but it's this knowledge of culture that gets them status with friends and we shouldn't be punishing that outright. Embracing their culture is not a mistake. It's this knowledge/promotion of urban youth culture that makes record labels, musicians, clothing, etc. so much money. If they get an internship in this field it's more likely their knowledge of this culture will get them hired. Hip-hop is a billion (if not trillion) dollar industry created by inner city youth.

    Many black and latino kids don't see people like them in white collar jobs, and when they do, they make less than an equally qualified white man. So, they reject it as it rejects them. They already know opportunities can be taken away even if they dress the part, so why lose themselves as well?

    We should be inspiring them to change the status quo so that it is also more inclusive. I struggle with this too. I dress unconventionally, and worry that it may influence what people think, but if I'm the best at my job, then there's nothing anyone can say. Success in this world has many faces and our kids need to see that, and schools need to show them there are options. This is the age when kids dream, we should be encouraging that.

    Lets make the kids the best they can be while also supporting their cultural expressions, thereby boosting their self-esteem so when they are faced with a challenge they will have confidence.

  • In reply to Eric:

    My hope as a teacher is that students understand that there are multiple sides / identities that they can and must take on to succeed. I tell them that the way I talk to a parent or colleague is not the way I talk to my friends. I was with some friends once and they joked they were going to kick me out of the car if I kept talking like a teacher (I used one of my the AP vocabulary words of the week or something). LOL.

    As a Chicano, I've learned I am a little more Mexican sometimes, a little more American at others, sometimes casual, sometimes formal. I can succeed in multiple worlds because even though I hate it, we live in contexts that are divided. I hope my teaching can change this a little bit but I'm not naive or arrogant enough to believe I alone can do this. Maybe this will always be the case.

    Bottom line, it's OK for students to value who they are but they need to also understand that in order for them to change the rules of the game, they have to succeed with it first. I think that clear and consistent discipline policies and expectations like be on time, be dressed appropriately, do not swear are essential for this.

    The other thing I tell my students is I swear, too. But not at school and I have learned to be really careful at home since my kids were born.

    Thanks for adding your ideas.

  • In reply to Ray Salazar:

    The great writer, activist, and poet Audre Lorde said "The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house."

    I believe that, and maybe that is where we differ.

    I agree, we need to teach code switching. There is a time and a place for everything. And I agree that discipline is essential for learning and for success, but punishment isn't.

    No one is able to do this alone, so we need a concerted effort from all fronts especially teachers. As a Chicano, you only need to look to Dolores Huerta or Cesar Chavez to know that this does not always have to be the case. ;)

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Eric:


    I agree with you that discipline is a integral part of success. I do disagree that punishment should not be. as the proverv goes, you do the crime you pay the time. With children and teenagers it is essential that they are aware of the consequences of their actions, thus leaving in the equation punishment. As we are all professionals in our own respected fields (as can be concluded from the educated comments and opinions people are sharing in this blog) it is safe to assume that the majority of us grew up in a culture where spanking was acceptable. I can conclude that many on this blog are parents and we frown on spanking our own children, but I am also sure we reward good behavior and punish bad behavior. I find the proper way to punish bad behavior is to take something, be it a iPod, allowance, privileges, etc... With that said, Punishment cannot be excluded from the equation of bad/poor behavior. If you do poorly at work, you get any of the following: no raise, passed for promotion, demoted, or fired.

    This being the case, we are discussing high school students that by know should understand meaning of accountability and the consequences that come with it. They are not required to master it at a young age but a working knowledge is required as even some adults in this world can lack this.

  • In reply to Oscar Escalante:


    Respectfully, I don't buy the "you do the crime..." thing. It was illegal for blacks to go to white schools not too long ago. Is that right? Again, we need them to question the status quo.

    I find the best way to deal with bad behavior is to prevent it by setting firm ground rules with the kids and promoting student buy-in by letting them have a voice in what they will learn. As teachers we have to do our thing, but this little involvement goes a long way. They feel respected, and will return that respect. Trust them.

    If my actual child is behaving badly, 9 time out of 10 it could have been prevented with a nap, food, planning, talking, or listening. I refuse to punish my kid for something I could have prevented. I'm not perfect, I make mistakes, but you can bet I learned.

    Kids already understand consequence and accountability. They don't always want what we want for them, but they should be allowed to make that choice for themselves free of additional punishment.

    My worry is that this will push low-income families out which is a common theme in some charters from what I've seen.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Eric:


    I do admire your approach that children/teens should be involved in the decision making process of rules. This is a refreshing idea that they can benefit from as they can be their own worst critics. I can also respect your view that we as parents can fail our children if they fail to meet our expectations or do something that is not proper. You do note that such behavior could have been prevented by nap, food, planning, talking, etc... This leads us to rules and structure and as such if we do not have these tools in place and something goes of plan this calls for corrective measures, or the unpopular punishment. So again we say, these students chose to enroll in this school understanding their high standards and student expectations and with failure to meet them they accumulated fines and they must be paid.

  • In reply to Eric:

    Idon't understand your logic, Eric, so I'll respond this way.

    Education is the master's tool. The more education and power positions Latinos get, the more we can change the obstacles against us--as long as our intentions are to improve our communities, not maintain the status quo.

    The need for punishment is debatable because it conjures ugly scenarios. The need for consequences is essential if our young people are going to succeed.

  • In reply to Ray Salazar:


    Our kids feel the consequences of being brown everyday when they enter a store and are followed around. They're punished by society in one way, then punished by their people for "acting white." I bet if you take a poll you will find that many of your kids take education seriously. It's the euro-centric content that turns them off.

    Education is the master's tool only if it is exclusive to the master's experiences. Traditional curriculum teaches them that Columbus discovered America, we need to teach to dismantle these myths. The fact of the matter is that even with their shirts tucked in they still might not get hired.

    And yes, to some extent they have to submit to the norm, but on the streets eye contact can get you killed, and as teachers we have to be aware of this when a student won't look us in the eye. We can't punish them for their personal status quo.

    We have to let kids know that they do have to code switch, but also teach them the racial/class/gender component as to why.

    I doubt Noble is doing this.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Eric:

    I gather from your sentence's "Our kids feel the consequences of being brown everyday when they enter a store and are followed around. They're punished by society in one way, then punished by their people for "acting white."" that you still beleave that color still is the determining factor of your success or failures? As a Mexican-American I refuse to beleave that "Because of my color or because of my environment I am set for failure." It is this kind of beleif that further pushes our youth to failure. Once we get past the color and ethnecity debate can we further ourselves. I feel I can speak for Ray and myself as we both grew up in low income homes and I attended a poor performing HS. It is the belief and understanding that if you play by the rules then you can come out ahead of the game, I am not blidn to the belief that this is not always the case as obstacles will always be present, however if you continue to revert your belief to color and ethnic background as means of being held back than as a person you would be no different from the individual whom already has judged you based on your appearance... ultimately that is another topic and the matter in question is how the school fines are affecting low income families or in reality how the students whom are failing to comply with the rules are not only failing themselves but are also failing their families for incurring such fines.


  • In reply to Eric:

    "We have to let kids know that they do have to code switch, but also teach them the racial/class/gender component as to why."

    I agree with this point. I think students need to learn how to put on their "business face" and/or "academic face" at the right times. Code switching should be intentional. Some people will not learn how to do it until they are put in a situation where they are discredited because of the way they may be speaking or acting towards others.

  • In reply to Eric:

    So true, Eric and Noelia. Having students recognize this in high school can increase their chances for success outside of school. The stakes in high school are lower than outside of it.

  • In reply to Eric:


    I don't believe skin color determines that you will fail, but conversely being white can guarantee you access and benefits that remain unseen and being brown does tend to mean you will be judged as media portrays us. Like one of my favorite sociologist Prudence Carter said, some people are born on 3rd base but think they hit a triple.

    Having had some time to think about it, I do like your idea of removing something from the kids, but it has to "fit the crime" in order for kids to learn from it.

    Like if a kid is constantly on his phone, you take the phone. Charging money has no relation to the infraction.

  • In reply to Eric:

    "I don't believe skin color determines that you will fail, but conversely being white can guarantee you access and benefits that remain unseen and being brown does tend to mean you will be judged as media portrays us." Two points: First, watch any sitcom, cartoon (Simpsons), or funniest home videos, etc...and you will see that white Americans are not portrayed as geniuses while all others are not. Second, a white child who comes from an impoverished home with parents who have only a H.S. diploma or less is no better off than his/her "brown" counterparts. They are not "born on 3rd based" simply because they are white.

  • Ray,
    I completely agree with you. Every time a teacher has to stop teaching to discipline a student, every other student in the class is being cheated out of their education. Think of how much you could get done in your class if their were no discipline issues. There are rules in all walks of life and if the students don't abide by the rules at Noble, there are consequences. If the parents can't afford to pay the fines, they have two choices:
    1) Leave the school
    2) Make little Johnny or Susie behave and abide by the school rules.
    They have to get FOUR demerits before they incur the $5 fine. I find it interesting that nobody is focusing on all of the demerits that had to be accumulated to amount to 200k in fines. That's a lot of bad a$$ behavior from these kids.

  • In reply to Tracy A. Stanciel:

    Tracy, thank you for responding. I'm glad and motivated to hear more voices that agree with the need for discipline. Strong, clear discipline systems help students and teachers.

  • In reply to Tracy A. Stanciel:

    Tracy, I forgot to mention that the school does provide options for families who cannot afford to pay. The link to the handbook on channel 7's Web site at the end of my post mentions something about this.

  • In reply to Tracy A. Stanciel:

    Tracy, the total fine amount is 10 high schools over a three year period. So kids do accumulate a lot of fines. The CEO said that in cases of extreme poverty, those fines have been waved.
    I believe Noble is 90% low income, and 96% minority (split fairly evenly between black and latino).

    I also believe that few of the protesters were Noble parents or students. Although I'm not sure.

    As a response to all this criticism Noble alumni have set up a facebook page in the last couple of days. Darn impressive young adults:


  • In reply to Donn:

    meant to type "But some kids do accumulate a lot of fines"

  • In reply to Donn:

    Thanks for posting the link to this, Donn. It's great to see young people presenting their view.

  • I'm really confused. Charter school discipline = good; AUSL = bad. If you dislike AUSL because they use Doug Lemov's strategies you should really hate the type of place where those strategies were developed. While Nobel Street wasn't the place that Lemov did his work they are similar enough to the Uncommon Schools network that you should have the same issues. If we're talking about viewing students from a deficit model I don't know any more glaring example than giving a detention for not using quotation marks correctly. So which is it? Do you support the Doug Lemov's and the Lee Cantor's of the education world or not?

  • In reply to Evan Velleman:

    Evan, thank you for giving me the opportunity to clarify. I thought about your point as I was writing and decided not to include in order to remain the post focused on one issue.

    My concern with AUSL in my late summer post "This School Year, Don't Teach Like a Champion" is that at AUSL schools Doug Lemov's strategies are used for instruction--as instruction. That post gives examples of how Lemov's approaches are used as instructional strategies. I make it a point to say that those are classroom-management strategies--not instructional ones deserving of a championship title.

    When the coach would come into my room at the AUSL high school, she would be there to check if I said, "Your brain should be thinking about . . . , your body should be . . . , and your mouth should be . . . " She would also time how long it would take me distribute materials. We also had PD session on getting students to move desks in 15 seconds. If it took longer, they had to do it again. We never had any deep conversation of performance-based tasks, intellectual challenges for students, or the relevance of the curriculum.

    In another conversation with another coach, she challenged me for pushing students to make inferences. "You should be working on supporting details," she told me. "Inferences don't come until 4th quarter." I had to push students to a higher level of thinking after they identified the supporting details. Otherwise, what was the point? The short story we read lent itself to inferences.

    I'm not addressing Noble Street's curriculum or instruction in my post and neither is PURE. What's at issue are the demerits and fees. Discipline is necessary for good instruction.

    AUSL confuses discipline with instruction. Yes. AUSL still = bad for me.

  • In reply to Evan Velleman:

    Evan, this is an add on to my response below. It's also important for me to mention that I emphasized in my post that Noble Street is a school of choice. Parents and students can choose to go there or not. Solorio Academy High School is not. Students from Hernandez automatically get enrolled in the school and have to conform. That's not a choice. Neighborhood schools also do not get a choice about AUSL taking over.

  • fb_avatar

    As usual you have another great article. You make a valid point on why PURE is not addressing the issue on how and why these individuals have the demerits that warrant these fines. Ultimately this comes down to accountability, not only by the student involved in the matter but the parent as well. The student whom made a concious decision to attend this school should be held to the highest standards of the school and likewise the parents (Parent- a word that is used very losely these days as anyone can make a child and being responsible for that child is another matter) should also assume responsibility that their child/ward are abiding by the rules set forth by the school. I can understand that there are financial strains and some families are unable to afford such fines, this should warrant a greater response from the parent to enforce good behavior in school to avoid these fines. Mom/Dad can give a child a phone, x-box, Jordans, etc... they should be able to pay fines incurred by their child/ward and also enforce the loss of such luxury items. Ultimately, if the student can play by the rules- out you go and don't let the door hit you on the way out. This is a harsh reality we as employees of our respected institutions face should we become a burden on our employeer.

  • In reply to Oscar Escalante:

    Thanks, Oscar. I appreciate the comment. I'm glad this post is motivating people to respond. I agree--take away the phones.

  • Abused people most often identify with their abusers. I also understand the need to maintain order when you have to warehouse more that 20 people who then have to be controlled in a top down manner in order to allow a semblance of communication to occur. I understand teachers stuck in a top-down hierarchical system also tow the line. They are afraid for their jobs and rewarded for that towing.

    That being said, Noble is a corporate proto-fascist model that was outdated and proven ineffectual in the 30s and 40s.

    The only thing you teach students by controlling people the way Noble does is that democracy has no meaning. That the only role for a citizen in our country is to behave "properly" as defined by authorities: That rewards/punishments are set by those hierarchies and that the only role for a person is to obey or suffer.

    Sorry, this is absolutely the wrong sort of lesson to be teaching members of a democratic society.

    You are damaging children in the name of corporate aesthetics.

  • In reply to pkg18:

    Victor, thanks for commenting. I'm not sure if you're implying that I've been abused somehow and, therefore, support the "abuse" of Noble. I can't relate to that.

    Let's go back to the question--what does Noble Street want students to do: get to class on time, be in class instead of in the hallway or on the street, use language free of profanity. Are you really arguing this is oppressive and abusive?

  • So Ray, quick question: If you like Noble so much, and you have such little patience for your union, why do you continue working at a traditional public school?

  • That's a good question. I believe in public education and make significant contributions wherever I work. I belive there should be choice in our public school system. Yes, I believe charters should be an option. And I believe that the Chicago Teachers' Union should and can change to fit the needs of 21st century educators. My commitment is to improve the quality of education on the Southwest Side. Where I teach now is progressive and I do believe in the opportunities it is providing students. We are a transformation school.

    I have not found a charter high school on the Southwest Side that aligns with my commitment. I really like where I am now and will continue to stay there. But if one day a progressive charter high school opens up on the Southwest Side, I'll consider it. Right now, I enjoy my school and students.

    Just because I criticize the union doesn't mean that I am against the CTU. I am impatient with the union's logic and reactive leadership--not a teachers' union. Many of us--many of us--agree with me.

    To clarify, I support Noble Street's discipline system. I have not commented on their curriculum because I don't know it. They are a school of choice that is giving lots of low-income students opportunities. If people don't like them, they shouldn't send their kids there.

    I appreciate your thoughtful response to my post.

  • In reply to Ray Salazar:

    For a teacher, Noble is also about 6 hours more per week leading a class compared to CPS. Personally, if I thought I would likely teach for many years, a high-performance charter might be exhausting.
    Nobel's students need the intense environment to get ready for college in four years. The budget means that staff at Nobel shares an equivalent large work load.
    It seems to me that the best hope for reducing this workload (increasing staff efficiency) without an large budget increase is technology.
    Personally I feel that CPS hours are somewhat too short. But to extend the CPS teacher workload to the equivalent of what they do at Noble isn't sustainable or realistic for for a large system.

  • In reply to Donn:

    Donn, I agree. With all the demands that teachers have, and with all the advances in technology, we must--must--use technology to help students. There are lots of useful programs. One in particular is by ETS: Criterion. We've been using it and it helps student revise their writing. It identifies errors in grammar, mechanics, punctuation, style, and even topic development. It helps students help themselves.

    Thanks for posting.

  • Some links relating to this thread:
    Salman Khan's TED talk on their new free Ed. software:
    Recent thoughtful commentary on the Noble discipline issue:
    "Kelly Flynn Tackles the Learning Problem that Dare Not Speak its Name"


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