Noble Charter Schools: A teacher's perspective
Noble Charter Schools in Chicago have gotten a heap of negative attention over the past several weeks for a discipline policy that some call a “dehumanizing system that looks a lot more like reform school than a college prep.” In short, the school issues demerits to students who commit infractions, and students who earn four demerits in two weeks are given detention and charged $5. Critics claim that such policies amount to “nickel and diming” poor families who are already struggling to make ends meet. (Last week, Fordham’s own Adam Emerson pointed out that Noble is hardly alone—there are many Catholic schools, for instance, that levy similar fines for student misbehavior.)
Of course, there are different ways to structure discipline policies, and what works for one school won’t necessarily work for another. But what’s missing from this discussion is the context necessary to understand how the policy is used and its impact on the culture, students, and families.
Below is the response from Amanda Young, a learning specialist who works at a Noble Charter School in Chicago, and who is shocked and dismayed by the attention Noble’s discipline policy has received. She believes that, taken together, Noble’s policies are designed to support students and create a culture that helps them succeed. And it’s hard to argue with the success they’ve had so far. As Emerson noted in his post last week, “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.”
Guest Post From Amanda Young, Learning Specialist in the Noble Charter School Network:
A lot of attention has been focused on a narrow slice of the discipline policy of the Noble Charter School Network.
A lot of attention has been focused on a narrow slice of the discipline policy of the Noble Charter School Network. What is most frustrating about this discussion, however, is that the media has failed to give any context that would help readers understand how the discipline policy works within a system that is far more focused on supporting each individual student than on nickel and diming minor infractions. In fact, I have never worked in a school that was so dedicated to supporting each and every student so thoroughly—academically, socially, emotionally, and so on. Every Noble student is matched with an Advisor who tracks his or her grades and demerits. Every Advisory meets at least once a day. Advisors have extra uniform items (socks, belts etc.) so that students don't receive demerits for minor issues like being ‘out of uniform’. What’s more, students get at least one warning before demerits are issued, unless the infraction is extreme. In the end, students have to put more effort into getting multiple demerits and detentions than they do into avoiding them.
It is true that Noble charges students $5 if they earn four demerits in two weeks. The point is to help students understand that their behavior has consequences and that they need to take responsibility for their actions. That said, we understand that our students come from families who are struggling financially, and so the school works with students who cannot afford the fine. In fact, teachers and administrators have paid out of pocket for the students who truly don’t have the means to come up with the money themselves. (Nowhere in the news is this level of personal and individualized support ever mentioned.) And the money that’s collected is used to pay for student trips. (All juniors go to NY for an east coast college tour for a mere $80; all students go on a free camping trip.)
Prior to joining Noble, I worked in the NYC public schools for years. There were many times that I feared for my own safety inside the schools. Safety is not a concern at Muchin because of the rules and expectations. I would encourage anyone who criticizes the discipline policy to visit a Noble school for an hour and decide for him/herself whether the system of structure, expectations, and support is helping or hurting its students.
In the end, the reason Noble is so successful is because it holds everyone in the building to higher standards, and because everyone supports the policies and the culture it creates. Everyone is on the same page and supporting each other. It’s rare to see such support for schoolwide discipline policies and culture in traditional urban public schools. The reality for too many traditional urban public schools is that the balance of power has shifted so that teachers aren’t in control of the culture. At Noble, the adults have set the culture, and they have set it in service of the best interests of the students we serve. I feel privileged to be serving inner-city students in a school that I would actually send my own children to, and can't say enough in support of it.
Amanda Young is a learning specialist at Muchin College Prep, a Noble Charter School in Chicago. Prior to working at Muchin, she worked as a math teacher and learning specialist for the New York City Board of Education.
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About the Editor
Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow
Kathleen Porter-Magee is a Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow and the Senior Director of the High Quality Standards Program at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, where she leads the Institute’s work on state, national, and international standards evaluation and analysis.
May 16, 2013
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