Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Detention for Five, Alex

Detention for Five, Alex
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
February 14, 2012

Here’s a hell of an irony: Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE) are attempting to prevent responsible behavior from occurring in the Noble Street Charter Network of schools of Chicago.

Since the 2008-09 school year the Noble Charter schools, of which there are 19, students have incurred fines for their misdeeds and miscreant behavior. Should a student earn four demerits for infractions such as, but not limited to, untied shoes, untucked shirts, chewing gum, sleeping in class and bringing inappropriate food to school, he or she is subject to detention.

But unlike other schools and school systems, this detention will cost the attendees $5 to cover the cost of the extra time required for staffing the three-hour after school punishment session. During the detention, students may be assigned silent study, behavior improvement lessons, or cleaning and maintenance. Should students rack up a dozen detentions, having already cost them $60, they are then mandated to attend a discipline education program which will set them back an additional $140. Beyond that, students are subject to suspension.

“If you have rules, you have to enforce them,” said Michael Milkie, Noble Network CEO in defense of the measures. Milkie said that sweating the small details prevents bigger problems, noting that Noble’s rules have all but put the kibosh on more severe problems such as violence. There has been an average of one fight a year per campus, said Milkie of the success of his program.

Noble’s policies are reminiscent of those enforced during the administration of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. He believed in a “fix the broken window” philosophy of crime fighting whereby replacing and repairing broken windows around the city then moving on to the next bigger problem eventually sends a message that the authorities are paying attention and will crack down to make the city a better place in which to work, play, and live. Conversely, ignoring the “small stuff,” only encourages greater destruction, crime and mayhem proving to be deleterious to the city as a whole for residents and visitors alike.

And yet, here comes PURE with its impure notion of slamming the lid on Noble and its successes. PURE is seeking legal action to squelch the policies that not only are succeeding at Noble but other charter schools are considering emulating. It’s ironic because this is a working system that teaches young people responsibility, yet a group with responsible in its name wants to extinguish this bright light.

So bright a light, Noble claims that 90 percent of its graduates attend college and it boasts an overall graduation rate of 86 percent, as compared to a paltry 54 percent graduation rate for the Chicago public school system.

In spite of the Noble success, PURE objects that low income students and families are unable to afford the cost of detention and potential discipline education program. This is where personal responsibility makes an entrance. The onus is on the parents to teach their children proper behavior before they reach the front door of the school building. The onus is also upon the students themselves to actually behave in school and follow the rules. Nobody is forcing these children to misbehave and act out at school. Additionally, poverty is no excuse for poor behavior.

One mother complained her son should not have been penalized for not shaking the hand of a visitor to the school. “I don’t see how it has anything to do with discipline,” said Joan Blackwell, parent of the aforementioned student. Clearly Ms. Blackwell does not see the bigger picture. Greeting a visitor to the school with a handshake (and looking him or her directly in the eyes) is a character developing exercise useful for life.

Having taught in both urban public and charter schools, I applaud the Noble approach. Discipline is severely lacking in the classroom and the amount of time expended dealing with unruliness is time away from academics. Calculate that throughout a 12 year career and the amount of actual learning is greatly diminished in troubled schools versus those with fewer behavioral problems.

No student is perfect, and perfection is hardly expected. Even Noble allows for four demerits prior to detention. PURE should rescind thoughts of legal action and leave be a good system. Schools should be able to make their own rules – local authority at the grass roots level typically works best.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and educator living in Westfield, IN.

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