Noble Charter Schools: A teacher's perspective

learning specialist, Noble Charter Schools
Amanda Young

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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