By Jessica Kelmon, Associate Editor
How are charter schools different, you ask? They are public schools that get district money on a per-pupil basis but operate outside of district oversight. That means charter schools can design school policies that are distinctly different from traditional public schools. But what does that really mean?
It means punishments can be eye-popping, over-the-top – and even downright bizarre. Case in point: Noble charter schools in Chicago, where students are fined for behavioral infractions. At Noble schools, for instance, a high schooler who brings chips to school could be fined $5, as could a student who fails to make eye contact with a teacher. More examples: not tying shoes and running a pencil along the side of a desk. Students with multiple infractions are required to take – and pay for – a $140 summertime class to learn how to improve their behavior.
Reports this week as a result of FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests by outraged student, parent, and community groups reveal that during the 2010-2011 school year, Noble’s 10 high schools earned a tidy $188,647 in fines from students. And since the 2008-2009 school year, they’ve collected almost $400,000.
From students. In fines.
Charter schools are known for strict policies. Many schools have uniforms – many others enforce dress codes. Some charter school, like the KIPP Charter Management Organization (CMO), are big on citizenship, with New York City schools issuing character report cards for traits like self-control, gratitude, and social intelligence. So against that backdrop, perhaps the Chicago CMO’s decision to fine students isn’t so surprising.
For all the outrage and the snickering that a fine for potato chips can (and does) elicit, there might be something to this. The article quotes Noble’s CEO, Michael Milkie, who confirmed the sums and said these large fees cover only part of the cost of detention. That argument I find not just weak, but lame. After all, student discipline has always been part of education – and making a buck here and there from student offenders just seems lazy – and greedy.
But Milkie had another, more interesting justification for the fines: “Many well-behaved students do not have a good learning environment in their high schools as their education is compromised by disruptive students. … In addition, their education dollars are diverted to addressing the improper behavior of those disruptive students. Noble has changed that inequity by asking misbehaving students to share in the cost of addressing their behavior.”
Now that’s an interesting way to look at it. It’s different, it’s unorthodox, but hey – isn’t that what charter schools are all about – improving education using new and untraditional methods?
On the heels of this report, the AP released a story (embedded below) about a charter school in Cincinnati that teamed up with Easter Seals and private donors to pay students to attend school regularly. This charter is a “drop-out recovery” school, and even though the payouts are small – $25 for a senior who attends school on time all week, and $10 for underclassmen who do the same – the principal says the brand-new program is already working. Watch here:
What do you think of these charter schools’ discipline and incentive methods – shocking or smart?