Charter Operator Fines Students For Infractions

Posted By Levi

February 13th, 2012 7:52pm

Category: Education

Folks, welcome to the school of the future.

From Chicago News Cooperative:

One of the city’s highest-performing charter school groups, the Noble Street Charter School Network, has raked in nearly $400,000 over the last two school years by fining students for disciplinary infractions, a group of Chicago Public School students and parents said this morning.

The Noble Street Charter School Network collected $188,647 in fines, which it calls “fees,” during the 2010-2011 school year across the 10 high schools it operates. Since the 2008-2009 school year, the organization has collected $386,745 in detention fees and behavior classes.

Noble schools charge students $5 for behavior infractions like “bringing chips to school” and “not looking a teacher in the eye,” and students with multiple infractions must pay  $140 to take a behavior-improvement course during summer school, according to information obtained by a trio of student, parent and legal advocacy groups.

The findings are based on information obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request and were released this morning by the Voices of Youth in Chicago Education, a student-led advocacy group; Parents United for Responsible Education, a parents’ rights organization, and Advancement Project, a community-based legal action group.   Students and parents who spoke at a Monday morning news conference called the discipline practices, “draconian,” “totalitarian,” and “appalling” and accused Noble and CPS of promoting policies that put students on the street, rather than keep them in school.   “It isn’t ‘noble’ to treat teenagers like two-year-olds,” said Julie Woestehoff, executive director of PURE. “It isn’t ‘noble’ to treat your predominately African American and Latino students as though they are all potential criminals whose every movement must be harshly controlled.”

Donna Moore, a parent whose son Joshua attends Noble’s Gary Comer College Prep campus, said Noble’s discipline code has negatively affected her son’s academics because he is constantly being fined for things like not tying his shoes and running a pencil along the side of a desk.   “The punishment doesn’t fit the crime,” Moore said.

Michael Milkie, chief executive of the Noble network, confirmed the numbers and said the money “only partially defrays the costs associated with detention.” Only students with more than 12 detentions in a school year are required to take “behavior courses” in summer school, he added. All of the school’s summer courses cost $140, Milkie said, not just those required for disciplinary purposes.

Charter schools, like Noble, are public schools that receive taxpayer money on a per- pupil basis, but are privately operated and exempt from most district policies. Students must apply and are admitted through a lottery.   Noble schools are known for strong academic performance, but also a stringent discipline policy.

VOYCE and other groups say the discipline policies tend to force low-performing students out of the Noble schools.   Milkie defended Noble’s stringent discipline code, and related fees, in an e-mail to the Chicago News Cooperative.   “Many well-behaved students do not have a good learning environment in their high schools as their education is compromised by disruptive students,” Milkie wrote. “In addition, their education dollars are diverted to addressing the improper behavior of those disruptive students. Noble has changed that inequity by asking misbehaving students to share in the cost of addressing their behavior.”

Waivers and payment plans are available for low-income students who cannot pay the fines, according to Milkie. “No student is prevented from moving on to the next grade level because of their families’ inability to pay fees,” he wrote.   Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been a strong supporter of Noble schools. In a 35-minute video released last month by the Michigan-based Education Action Group Foundation, Emanuel said Noble has the “secret sauce” for providing a high-quality urban education. Noble will open four new schools in the next two years.


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