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Bill will ban Noble Street Charter's fines for 'misconduct'

PURE reported this week that the work they have been doing (with VOYCE) to expose the fines imposed by Noble Street Charter Schools on students for disciplinary infractions are going to be made illegal if Chicago lawmakers have their way. The amendment to a bill that came out of the Senate Education Committee includes that explicit ban on the fines. Note that all of the votes against banning the fines came from Republicans on the committee.

Here is the story from PURE's website:

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard promoted Nobel Network of Charter Schools during a staged media event (above) on December 16, 2012. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Will Illinois outlaw Noble’s “secret sauce??

According to this article by Jim Broadway in today’s Catalyst, Senator Willie Delgado passed an amendment out of the Senate Education Committee last Wednesday [March 21?} which would essentially outlaw the fines Noble Street Charter Network charges its students for disciplinary infractions. Here’s what the amendment says:

"Section 5. The School Code is amended by adding Section 527A-5.5 as follows: (105 ILCS 5/27A-5.5 new) Sec. 27A-5.5. Student discipline; fines prohibited. A charter school may not impose a fine or other financial penalty on a student as a disciplinary measure."

The amended bill, SB 637, passed out of the Senate Education Committee on a 6-4 vote.

The recent media firestorm created by PURE, VOYCE, and the Advancement Project about Noble’s discipline policy, which Mayor Rahm Emanuel called it’s “secret sauce,” had a clear impact on several Senators:

Delgado explained to the committee that he knows Milkie well, respects him as an educator and is impressed by the successes. But, he said, “We just disagree about this policy.” Many constituents have complained to him about the fines, he said, and asserted that he “could have filled the hearing room” with opponents of the policy.

He also referred to recent media accounts in which students and parents decried Noble’s policy.

No public school is allowed by law to charge such fees, Delgado pointed out, and no research has generated findings that such “financial punishment” has beneficial effects.

“I don’t want to micromanage,” he added, “but we see a problem.”

Committee members Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood) and Sen. Iris Martinez (D-Chicago) joined Delgado in vigorous opposition to the fines. “I have also heard many complaints,” Lightford told Milkie.

She agreed that Noble Street has achieved exceptional educational success, but “I just don’t know if [charging fines] is the right thing to do.”

….Martinez also told of hearing complaints about Noble’s fines, and she had a complaint of her own. Noble parents had called her in support of the policy after Delgado filed his amendment on March 7. These callers usually “didn’t even know what they were calling about,” Martinez said. “They just called because they were told to call. They tied up my [phone] lines.”

We’ll be working in the coming days to help Senator Delgado pass his bill.

The lengthy Catalyst article notes that Milkie brought a busload of Noble Street parents and students who Springfield for the hearing. Here is the story from Catalyst:

Lawmakers praise Noble Street, but vote against charter's fines

By: Jim Broadway / March 22, 2012

SPRINGFIELD--Noble Street Network of Charter Schools Superintendent Michael Milkie brought a busload of parents and alumni with him to a Senate Education Committee hearing at the Capitol in Springfield on Wednesday. The affection the group had for Milkie was obvious.

They sat through three hours as the committee debated multiple issues, listening attentively and looking proud as Milkie parried with senators who challenged him at every turn. They gathered around at the end of the day, posing for group photos with Milkie in the center.

The senators roundly praised what Milkie has achieved at Noble Street--a safe and secure learning environment, higher test scores and graduation rates than neighborhood high schools, noteworthy scholarship of Noble graduates at the college level.

“When I talk about the right way to educate students, I call it the Milkie Way,” joked Sen. William Delgado (D-Chicago) – even as he offered legislation to outlaw one of the key tactics that Milkie believes has made Noble Street schools so successful.

Student discipline is the central strategy at Noble, discipline demanding that students follow rules that rely on parents for enforcement. What motivates the parents? They are charged fees to cover part of the costs of the school’s disciplinary program.

The fees – labeled “fines” in recent media reports on the policy – are what “engages” the parents most effectively, Milkie told the committee. Delgado’s amendment to SB 637 would prohibit charter schools from imposing “a fine or any other financial penalty on a student as a disciplinary measure.” The committee approved the amendment 6-4, but whether it can pass both the House and Senate is very much in question.

The charge is usually just a $5 share of the school’s cost of holding a three-hour detention after school. But it can be as much as $140, to help pay for a disciplinary program teaching social skills and other subjects, which students with numerous demerits are required to attend.

There are many ways to rack up a demerit at Noble Street. Chewing gum is a four-demerit offense, and so is academic dishonesty, cheating or plagiarism. Eating outside the lunchroom will cost you two demerits, as will talking during a fire drill. Throwing anything in the lunchroom or failing to return a tray will each cost one demerit.

A student with four demerits within a two-week period gets a detention, for which his parents will be charged a $5 fee. Students with more than 12 detentions, or who have been involved in such activities as fighting, bullying, gangs or drug use or distribution, must attend the disciplinary program, conducted after school for 15 weeks or for four weeks during the summer.

All this is explained, Milkie said, in a number of places--the “contract” that a student and his parent sign as a part of the enrollment process, in information sent to parents and in the “Student Code of Conduct and Disciplinary Policy” section of the handbook given to Noble Street parents.

Do parents object to the fees charged for misbehavior? “Some do,” Milkie conceded. But he noted that Noble’s enrollment has grown from less than 200 students at the beginning to more than 5,000 at 10 campuses today – and more than 8,000 applied for this year’s freshman class.

Because of the safe environment and the academic success that Milkie said are results of the disciplinary policy, “Parents are flocking to us.”

Noble’s students are mostly from poor families, with 87% eligible for free or reduced-price lunches under federal guidelines. They often arrive with behavior issues, Milkie said, but the typical student who may earn 12 or 15 demerits as a freshman usually gets just two or so by senior year. Students respond positively to the disciplinary code, he said, as do their parents.

Delgado explained to the committee that he knows Milkie well, respects him as an educator and is impressed by the successes. But, he said, “We just disagree about this policy.” Many constituents have complained to him about the fines, he said, and asserted that he “could have filled the hearing room” with opponents of the policy.

He also referred to recent media accounts in which students and parents decried Noble’s policy.

No public school is allowed by law to charge such fees, Delgado pointed out, and no research has generated findings that such “financial punishment” has beneficial effects.

“I don’t want to micromanage,” he added, “but we see a problem.”

Committee members Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood) and Sen. Iris Martinez (D-Chicago) joined Delgado in vigorous opposition to the fines. “I have also heard many complaints,” Lightford told Milkie.

She agreed that Noble Street has achieved exceptional educational success, but “I just don’t know if [charging fines] is the right thing to do.”

In a response to a question, Lightford learned from a charter school association representative that no other charter in Illinois is known to have such a policy. That information seemed to her more important than any of the successes Milkie said were results of the parental engagement the discipline code and fines promote.

Martinez also told of hearing complaints about Noble’s fines, and she had a complaint of her own. Noble parents had called her in support of the policy after Delgado filed his amendment on March 7. These callers usually “didn’t even know what they were calling about,” Martinez said. “They just called because they were told to call. They tied up my [phone] lines.”

Martinez lectured Milkie about the difficult economy, the high unemployment and economic stress on low-income families. She expressed outrage that the school would collect nearly $300,000 in fines over a three-year period. “What do you do with all that money?”

Milkie said it costs Noble an average of about $19,000 per campus annually to cover the costs of detentions and the summer and after-school programs, but the fees generate only about $16,000 per campus. Parents of misbehaving students should pay the costs of the disciplinary program, Milkie said. Otherwise “the parents of those who do not misbehave will have to pay.”

Sen. David Leuchtefeld, a Republican from the small town of Okawville near St. Louis, strongly opposed Delgado’s amendment. He challenged Delgado, “Isn’t this micromanaging?” Leuchtefeld was a school teacher for more than three decades.

“We have finally found something that works,” he said. “Why would we want to change it?”

Ultimately, Lightford and Martinez were joined by Sen. Annazette Collins (D-Chicago), Sen. John Mulroe (D-Chicago), Delgado (who was temporarily on the committee in the absence of Sen. James Meeks) and Sen. Susan Garrett (D-Highwood) in voting the bill to the Senate floor.

All four Republicans – Leuchtefeld, Sen. Christine Johnson (R-Sycamore), Sen. Kyle McCarter (R-Highland) and Sen. Suzi Schmidt (R-Lake Villa) – voted against Delgado’s measure. Schmidt had been particularly enthusiastic in support of Noble’s disciplinary policy and successful record.

Whether the bill will pass both the House and Senate and arrive at the desk of Gov. Pat Quinn to be signed into law seems questionable. Getting 30 votes in the Senate will be a challenge. Republicans are likely to be joined by at least a few Democrats in opposition.

Passing the House may be even more challenging. Speaker Michael Madigan has the persona of a leader who values discipline above everything. Noble Street is also favored strongly by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who surely has Madigan’s phone number.

The Leuchtefeld question – “Why would we change it? – is likely to resonate.

Jim Broadway is the founder of State School News Service.



Comments:

March 24, 2012 at 8:39 AM

By: Rod Estvan

Nobel Street's fines

What I find so interesting about Nobel Street Charter's position on these fines is their refusal to give them up. One would think given the bad press they have gotten they would just give up the practice. I suspect the fines actually reflect a deep fear of losing disciplinary control over their students.

The reality may be that Nobel Street has its fair share of gang members too, only while in school they are dressed like nice prep students. The fines become an easy way to target these students and force their parents to withdraw them. Clearly, Mr. Milkie lives in fear of his past experience at Wells High School and knows that some of the kids getting in the doors of his charter school are also part of an urban culture that includes drug and gang wars that have so often been discussed in Substance.

Just like some traditional schools that suspend so many students that there are lines going out the door of the discipline office all day long, so to are the Nobel Street fines part of a losing battle to keep a lid on the urban realities of Chicago. One has to wonder how far away some of our communities are today from the current reality of drug wars in Mexico. I don't think either mass suspensions or fines can stop that terror, only offering jobs and incomes to urban youth can begin to address these bigger issues. I also don't think the Pope's current visit to Mexico will do much to end the drug wars there, but I am sure the citizens of Mexico are happy the drug lords agreed to take off a week for the Pope's visit.

Rod Estvan

March 24, 2012 at 10:17 AM

By: George N. Schmidt

Milkie couldn't teach regular students, let alone 'bad' ones

The dirty little secret of Noble Street has been that from the day he walked into Wells High School as a teacher, Michael Milkie couldn't teach the "bad" kids and went out of his way to only get the "good" ones. Everyone who knew him as a teacher at Wells High School knew that open secret.

Of course, in that he wasn't unique. He was, many have told me, just more blatant and less humble about it in the face of the hard work of his colleagues who chose to work with the urban "challenges." These challenging kids enter every general real public high school in Chicago (and many of the selective high schools) every day.

Any high school teacher can teach the honors, AP, and IB kids, even in Chicago. Democracy, however, is not about just those kids. This is a democracy, and the majority of the kids going to Chicago's real public schools, at this point in history, aren't in those groups. The kids face serious challenges, often have to work from a young age. In addition to the normal throes of teenage rebellion they are faced with challenges that would make their critics cry huge tears if portrayed by the same people doing the documentaries and other docu-dramas scripted by Rahm's crowd and the "Waiting for Superman" crew. Before I was fired and blacklisted by CPS a dozen years ago, I taught both the AP kids (never the IB ones) and the most "at risk" students (including the ones with the gang tattoos they got in jail).

Milkie was one of those (minority) of teachers who was always looking for a way to ignore the majority of kids and carve himself a small corner of privilege at the expense of his fellow teachers. Now it's a lucrative one, just as hypocritical, thanks to the "age" we're living in.

Chicago's charter school mania gave Michael Milkie the chance to get rid of any "bad" kids forever, he took it. The perversion of public education values over the past 13 years in the USA (and rooted a great deal in Chicago) through the privatization craze has allowed Milkie (and his family) to prosper — while he gets away with annually dumping his "failures" either out on to the streets or back into the neighborhood high schools (which then get blamed by ignoramous elitists like Rahm Emanuel for their "underperformance").

By 2000, just a year after Milkie left Wells, we were hearing from Wells about the Noble Street Pushouts.

It was an annual event, every January or February. Even when "Noble" only had one "campus" Milkie was forcing out some kids to prune his data set so that his scores had the best chance of shining. As Noble hyped its methods and became a darling of the plutocracy, the scam expanded across that part of town (and finally down to South Chicago Ave., around the "Comer Campus").

The teachers and principals at the receiving schools were barred by confidentiality from blowing the whistle on this practice (which should have been illegal years ago). This professionalism on the part of our colleagues in the real public schools was one of the main reasons why Milkie got away with it.

A second reason was shame: children and their parents were told, over and over and over, that it was their fault for being "disciplinary" problems that they were not up to Noble's Noble Mission. It took a certain amount of courage for the Noble Network Pushouts to go public after that public shaming (read the comments, both on line and in the Tribune following the expose on Noble Street's disciplinary cruelty and hypocrisy). Noble Street isn't the only charter outfit pulling this (KIPP in other cities is even worse, by the way), but the one that was able to get away with it the most.

But a third reason was the crass collaboration of governmental, political, plutocratic and media leaders in the hype and the scam. While it is nice to know that William Delgado finally noticed that Noble Network was scamming both the kids and the world, he should have known better from the opening of the Pritzker and other campuses west from the original campus years ago. Delgado's political career began at places like Kelvyn Park High School. All he had to do was listen to the teachers, administrators and students who were the victims of Milkie's Pushout program and he would have known long ago.

But it's still a good thing that Senator Delgado and his colleagues have taken this step. The next step, though, has to be full tranparency for all Illinois charter schools on finances. Michael Milkie now claims that the fines are necessary to afford the cost of his discipline programs, but without providing the public with complete information on his expenses (both for each campus and for his "network"), it's impossible for the public to know.

CPS officials continue to talk about "transparency" while resisting any demand that charter schools provide the public in detail with the same information required of the public schools. Until the charter schools are required to detail their expenses in the publication of their Position Files and their income (including the subsidies they are receiving from the plutocracy), the public has no way to verify that Milkie's claim that Noble can't "afford" a suspension program is another example of the deft manipulation of reality that is common of the charter schools, and is only personified by Milkie this week.

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