A price tag on misbehavior? An embattled Chicago charter network isn’t alone
A high-performing charter network in Chicago cherished by Mayor Rahm Emanuel got some lowbrow attention this week. The city’s esteemed Noble Network of Charter Schools has been charging fees of children who rack up a sizable share of demerits, and a group that would never be confused as a friend of charters and choice thought it would bring some attention to the practice. The Chicago media have lapped it up, mocking Emanuel’s previous reference to the school’s “secret sauce” for student success while pointing now to evidence that Noble is nickel-and-diming poor kids. But a cursory search through any number of Catholic school codes of conduct shows that Noble’s policies aren’t so extraordinary.
A cursory search through Catholic school codes of conduct shows that Noble’s policies aren’t so extraordinary.
Let’s set aside the fees for a moment and consider the “sauce” that makes up this particular charter network. State achievement test data show that Noble beats the public school test score average. Families have lined up for entry and the school has a long waiting list, despite – or maybe because of – its strict disciplinary policies. It boasts a 90 percent graduation rate, compared to 54 percent for Chicago Public Schools, and 91 percent of its graduating seniors go on to college.
It also puts a price tag on misbehavior. The student who collects four demerits in two weeks will be sent to detention and charged $5. Twelve detentions require a behavior modification class that costs $140. A group called Parents United for Responsible Education, or PURE, tallied all the fees the school has levied over three years and called a press conference Monday to announce the total: $386,745.
Julie Woestehoff and the folks at PURE, who identify charter and parental choice policies as “phony,” charged Noble with employing a “dehumanizing discipline system” that picks the pockets of already disadvantaged families. Yet the practice of levying fines for misbehavior has precedence in some Catholic schools. Give credit to the Chicago Sun-Times for calling the Chicago Archdiocese to determine whether the age-old institution of detention in Catholic schools comes with a cost. A spokesman with the archdiocese said that was not the case in Chicago, but the reporter shouldn’t have stopped there.
Ninety miles away, in Rockford, Illinois, St. Edward School fines students $5 for behavior that includes fighting, foul language, or “disrespect.” The money collected goes to existing scholarship funds. Mount Notre Dame High School in Cincinnati charges students $3 for chewing gum; $4.25 if the fine remains unpaid after one week. Students caught with a cell phone or cigarette (not necessarily both) at Mount Michael Benedictine School in Elkhorn, Nebraska, will be fined $25 for their first offense, $50 for their second, $75 for the third.
There are dozens of other examples, but is there an expectation that a seat in detention at a public school like Noble shouldn’t come with a fee? Judging by the reaction this week, a level-headed observer might say yes. But our conversation might be better informed by another layer of context. Few would accuse Catholic schools of being soft on discipline, or sloppy in student outcomes. And in many ways, the Noble charter network emulates the best of what makes many urban Catholic schools successful.
Noble CEO Michael Milkie was careful to call the charges “fees” not “fines,” and the money goes to cover the costs of detention. This is splitting hairs, and the semantics will only exacerbate the scorn heaped on a charter that stands among the best of any public school in Chicago. There is something to be said for asking families to put some skin in the game, especially if their children are the ones generating the costs associated with discipline. But until Noble is ready to defend the practice proactively, it will remain on the defensive. And it can’t rely on Chicago’s media to supply the context.
Category: Charters & Choice
blog comments powered by Disqus
About the Editor
Director, Program on Parental Choice
Adam Emerson is the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s school choice czar, directing the Institute’s policy program on parental choice and editing the Choice Words blog. He coordinates the Institute’s school choice-related research projects, policy analyses and commentaries on issues that include charter schools and public school choice along with school vouchers, homeschooling and digital learning.
June 13, 2013
Sign Up for updates from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute
- Charters & Choice
- Choice Media.TV
- Dropout Nation
- Ed is Watching
- Education Next
- Getting Smart
- Gotham Schools
- The Hechinger Report
- Jay P. Greene’s Blog
- Joanne Jacobs
- NACSA's Chartering Quality
- National Journal Education Experts
- The Quick and the Ed
- Rick Hess Straight Up
- Sara Mead’s Policy Notebook
- Whitney Tilson’s School Reform Blog