Charter $chools Are $pecial - MLK Day 2013
Let’s turn logic on its head for a moment and review the Chicago Tribune’s recent editorial applause for the National Labor Relations Board’s finding that teachers in city charter schools like “CMSA (Chicago Science and Math Academy) cannot join a union. They can – if they vote for it. The decision means that the NLRB has recognized that charters are special, and their teachers are not constricted by the same rules, as, say, traditional Chicago Public Schools teachers are.” You can find the entire article at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/editorials/ct-edit-charters-0121-jm-20130121,0,190687.story.
The editorial also praises the recent decision in its likely draw of additional charters to Chicago as well as the privatized demonstration that “with dedicated teachers and the right atmosphere, many charters show that any student can earn.” For the Chicago Tribune, these necessary components are always found wanting in public schools, especially those many operating on limited funds, crumbling infrastructure, and lack of curriculum. Something they choose to overlook. Adding more insult, the editorial suggests that “dedicated teachers” are not likely to be found in the public setting. “All of that flexibility is a direct challenge to the delineated-by-contract, homogenized, command-and-control system preferred by most teachers union leaders.” Private, good; public, bad.
If you’d like background on the origin of this battle to even suggest unionization at CMSA, and the repercussions for the poor educator who was so bold as to request the possibility, you might turn to an earlier blog:
If you are wondering about the advantages of “flexibility in a private market to make kids learn more,” read on.
"If you don’t like it – you can leave.” - (a description of CEO Milkie’s and Mayor Emanuel’s response to questions regarding discipline policies at Noble Street Network School) – Jasmine Sarmiento, Voices of Youth in Chicago Educations.
“Noble is forcing low-income parents to choose between paying the rent and keeping their child in school. This is a tax on Chicago’s Black and Latino families, and it’s wrong..” - Donna Moore, parent of a student in Noble Network Schools.
Charter School Discipline (…or...How to take out the trash, and look real good)
Back in the day, I mean way back in the day, students actually got to determine their own form of discipline – a long piece of green hickory branch usually cut by the very student about to be switched. This was considered a vast improvement in exchange for the cane used during the 17th and 18th centuries. Ah, progress.
After the mid-nineteenth century, continued disciplinary progress for public students included the paddle, in my own case, hung in plain sight above the principal’s office desk as a reminder of his overt ability to dispense justice in the form of extreme pain. But I was just one of many south side kids being “taught” and civilized in a continuing grand experiment on a national level.
Before all of us, even unto the mid 1850’s, education in America was provided primarily to the wealthy, and the overriding sentiment was that the poor were both uneducable and unworthy any attempts at education. It wasn’t until 1852 that Horace Mann, then Secretary of State for Massachusetts, urged all states to provide education to all students, creating what he hoped would be the great equalizer and the ultimate disappearance of poverty.
Later, the efforts of modernists like Phillipp Emanuel von Fellenberg and Francis Parker (1850’s) promoted concepts that remain current: “modern behavioral modification methods should attempt to address the underlying reasons or motivations for student misbehavior and tailor consequences to fit the (particular) transgression. School administrators should seek to encourage a positive association with school along with socially acceptable behavior” (www.pbs.org/kcet/publicschool/evolving_classroom/discipline.html). In essence, these movements suggested that learning was best accomplished with support, encouragement and kindness. This was quite the opposite of discipline for being incorrect in answer or deportment. Remember that word, deportment.
In the early 1900’s, as schooling became mandatory for all American youngsters, teachers found themselves stepping further and further into the roles of parents (in loco parentis), and “one value attached to this development asserted that while adults should be punished for their crimes, children should be rehabilitated for theirs, thus formalizing a beginning to the separation between juvenile misconduct and suffering as its remedy” (www.education.uslegal.com/discipline-and-punishment/).
Augmenting these modifications of the kinds of discipline painfully dished out in the working houses and boarding schools of the past, the 20th century educator awakened to the concept that education was more than simply transfer; instead, with the assistance of forward thinkers like Rosenblatt, Berne, Spock, etc., psycho-social arguments promoted the student’s own involvement in a transactional paradigm of learning. In short, teachers and educators moved way from the traditional belief that students learn best by rote and by sitting demurely in linear rows at rigid attention; quite the opposite, best practice now held to a more personalized and interactive learning/teaching construct.
Enter NOBLE STREET – Stage Far Right.
The Noble Network of Charter Schools, which runs 10 city high schools and yearns for more after recent school closings, has found an entirely new, novel method of exacting discipline for student “misbehavior.” This is the same network of schools that Mayor Rahm Emanuel praised for having the “secret sauce” for improving students’ scores, behavior, and success rates. It would appear that the secret sauce of which the Mayor and Superintendent Brizard crow is in great part actually a monetary disciplinary fee that has raised nearly $400,000 this year for Noble Street, left parents foundering to scrape together fines that are imposed upon them for their own student’s deportment, and has caused the flight of nearly 13% of students from the Noble Street charter schools back into the public system from whence they came – seeking opportunity and assistance to improve their own lots in life and finding failure for disciplinarily high expectations – monetarily?
In fact, according to the Chicago Tribune (Ahmed-Ullah, Noreen. Protests targets charter discipline fees. Chicago Tribune. 14 Feb. 2012), the loss of students from the Noble Network schools to other public districts has increased from 211 students in 2010 to 473 students in 2011. At the same time, CEO Michael Milkie will point glowingly at the Noble Networks improved graduation rates, not surprisingly – from 78.8% in 2010 to 86.2% in 2011. And CEO Mr. Milkie, who earns an annual salary over $200,000, should be proud of his enterprise’s increased revenue stream. Noble Street has received almost $400,000 in disciplinary fees since the 2008-2009 school year (Ahmed-Ullah). George M. Schmidt of Substance News reports “the charter company is profiting to the tune of some $200,000 per year from a disciplinary code that can only be called predatory” (www.substancenews.net/articles.php?page=3055).
Following the kind of schema found in the factory/transference models of business and schools of the early 1900’s, Noble Street has implemented the “SMART” disciplinary code. Here is what SMART’s acronym entails:
S = Sit up straight and be ready to learn.
M= Make eye contact when addressed.
A= Articulate in standard English and speak in proper volume.
R= Respond appropriately.
T= Track the speaker.
Each of these misdemeanors comes with a fine of $5 or more. In fact, infractions include an unbelievably long list of potential infractions not necessarily spelled out – chewing gum, carrying “chips,” forgetting your belt, tardiness, carrying a marking pen, having an energy drink, making a noise with a pen, etc. Each infraction (and others) will cost a student $5.00 or more (Rossi, Rosalind. School’s discipline: you act up you pay up. Chicago Sun Times. 14 Feb. 2012).
By the way, if a student is having a bad day – or time of it – 12 detentions/infractions or more will result in a $140 fine (they call it a fee) to attend an obligatory class on “behavior.” Additional detentions will result in an additional discipline class for an additional $140. Any student (more likely their family) who cannot pay will be held back from moving on to the next class – regardless of his or her grades. Please keep in mind that even though Noble Street schools are funded by wealthy benefactors like Penny Pritzker, nearly 90% of the families are low-income (Schmidt, George), and cannot afford the mounting fees for students who are having difficulty adapting to the “SMART” model.
Unlike the public system, Noble is allowed tougher disciplinary policies than the CPU because it is a charter – remember our earlier changing characterizations of public vs. private when it came to our model Chicago Math and Science Academy (see Vocabulary – Feb 19 & 26). Meanwhile, CEO Mr. Milkie affirms that SMART and the other “disciplinary policies at NOBLE promote basic, common sense citizenship things, which you know teenagers need” (Golab, Art. www.substancenews.net/articles.php?page=3055)
On the national level, school chief Arne Duncan also touts Milkie’s Noble Street agenda and, along with Pritzkers and other wealthy benefactors, endorses the programs used there: “’ We’re dramatically changing the opportunity structure,’ Duncan told Chicago a few weeks before leaving his CPS post to become the U.S. secretary of education. ‘We have tried to make this [city] a mecca for people who want to make change in public education ‘” (Rodkin, Dennis. Charting a new course. Chicago Magazine.com. 29 Feb. 2012).