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Noble Charter teachers should follow rules, too

Updated: March 21, 2012 8:05AM



Let me start my criticism of the Noble Street Network of Charter Schools’ discipline methods — zero tolerance that cost parents $387,000 in fees these last three years — by saying that if I ran a school I, too, would be hard-core about conduct that doesn’t positively contribute to an effective learning environment.

Students should abide by dress codes, not be late to class or eat “flaming” hot chips and sugary energy drinks in school. They should also sit up straight, make eye contact when addressed, speak in complete sentences and track a speaker with their eyes. Those are just plain good manners that show respect.

That said, if a school is going to be deadly serious about upholding high standards that, frankly, need to be the norm in every public school in America, it must:

1) Prepare parents and students for the high performance environment by providing specific, clear examples of every outlawed action, and its cost, and keep in constant communication about expectations.

2) Be completely open about how many punishments were doled out, what they were for, how much revenue they produced and how much education time was lost to it.

3) Ensure that every teacher, staff and administrator is held to as high a standard — if not higher — as the students.

Donna Moore, the mother of a student at Gary Comer College Prep — a Noble school — who had to repeat the 9th grade because he fell far behind because of detentions and suspensions, told me that even after attending the parent information sessions before enrolling her son, she had no idea that student behavior was such a primary focus in the school.

She did not understand the school’s written discipline policy and said the handbook that parents get was unclear about what was meant by “discipline” or what behaviors like “tracking a teacher” meant. She had no idea that detentions would come so fast and furious and that fees would pile up so quickly. Additionally, she said, her son was not instilled with this knowledge during freshman orientation programs.

“His first suspension was for nothing egregious like fighting, it was all these little small things,” Moore told me. “I didn’t know that they would cite him for not having a button, or a white stripe on the underside of his black shoes. All these picky, minor things that have nothing to do with issues of safety end up keeping a student out of school at the drop of the hat. Their GPAs go down and on paper it looks like they’re troubled kids.”

Noble dropped the ball on transparency. If they had shared with parents a running tally of the money they were collecting, the number of punishments and hours kids spent out of class because of them, they might have avoided the negative publicity and been able to address parent concerns in a more productive way.

Also, all the moms I spoke to were frustrated by a “do as I say, not as I do” atmosphere. Moore told me that despite having a no-tolerance rule about visible tattoos, one school social worker works without covering hers up.

Yolanda Miranda, who pulled her 17-year-old son out of Noble’s schools told me, “He got in trouble for swearing at a football game when the coaches themselves were cursing up a storm on the sideline. Security guards routinely speak inappropriately to students without consequences. If you are expecting the kids to do something, it has to start from the teachers, the office, the staff.”

Sounds to me like the Noble schools need to exercise some discipline of their own — and adjust the implementation of their discipline policies to set their students up to succeed, not fail.



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