With guest, Louder Than a Bomb poet Nate Marshall

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Suspensions/expulsions key to building charter school 'culture'

"Charter schools should not be allowed to 'expel' their way to better performance if they are truly public schools." -- Ald. Bob Fioretti
Last month, the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. attorney general's office released national guidelines on student discipline codes, acknowledging many urban school districts' zero-tolerance policies have created school-to-prison pipelines.

Chicago schools CEO Byrd-Bennett claims she wants to reduce expulsions and suspensions that hit hardest on African-American students. She claims that she "inherited a really punitive zero-tolerance code of conduct." But in fact, every district she has led, from Cleveland to Detroit became notorious for black-student expulsions and suspensions.

BBB and Rahm's problem now is, they're both afraid to take on the privately-run charter schools where, according to this morning's Sun-Times, students in Chicago are 11 times more likely to be expelled than students in traditional schools. They've both made their total political investment in the expansion of charter schools, at the expense of publicly-run neighborhood schools but can't move the needle on expulsion/suspension numbers without taking on the powerful charter lobby. Something they won't/can't do.
“I can’t make ’em. But, I can persuade them, show them a different model,” says Rahm. “And we think they’re going to be cooperative and work with us because it’s so promising what we’re seeing at CPS.”
I don't know exactly what the mayor thinks is so "promising" about 15% more elementary school kids being suspended last school year than in 2011-2012. Or about the fact that though black kids make up just 41% of CPS students, 75% of all out-of-school suspensions were handed out to black students.

But charters are 11 times worse. And they expel and suspend in larger numbers, not because their leaders aren't aware of "different models", but because their policies have been successful in boosting their performance numbers. Just listen to Noble Charter Network chief Mike Milke defend his expulsion policies as "heart-breaking" but central to building charter school "culture."
"What we cannot do, however," says Milke, "is compromise the culture and learning environment of the 99 percent of students for the disruptive 1 percent. We must not perversely disincentive our schools from addressing those who compromise the learning environment for the majority of students."
To better understand the kind of punishment culture Milke envisions, just take a look at his history. His Noble Network of Charter Schools charges students at its 10 Chicago high schools $5 for detentions stemming from infractions that include chewing gum and having untied shoelaces. Last school year it collected almost $190,000 in discipline "fees" from low-income parents, from detentions and behavior classes — a policy drawing fire from some parents, advocacy groups and education experts.

Milke previously had gained notoriety when he banned a gay/straight alliance group at his school until a federal law suit forced him to reverse his discriminatory policy.

Andrew Broy, the president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, said charters will work with CPS to "address the issue", but adds that stopping expulsions "isn’t a solution."

Maybe not, but it's a good start.

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