I am teaching logic and argumentation in civics this week, and one of my favorite #edjustice advocates, Katie Hogan has submitted a response to Noble St. CEO Mike Milkie’s OpEd regarding expulsion rates at his charter network. We’ll see if the news outlet publishes, but I couldn’t resist.
In response to “Expulsion heartbreaking but necessary,” by Michael Milkie February 21, 2014
As a teacher for fourteen years in CPS neighborhood schools I can empathize with the pathos in Mr. Milkie’s arguments in the February 21st, 2014 editorial. Mr. Milkie argues that although it is “heartbreaking” to have to expel so many students, he has to make the tough choices for “high expectations and personal accountability.” After all, I myself, have had those days where the one or two most disruptive and combative students were absent. I’ve imagined what it would be like teach everyday with the absence of their complex, and often excruciatingly frustrating presence. Where I could just “teach,” and not metaphorically duck and head roll the verbal and emotional outburst of my most troubled young people. Yet, Mr. Milkie offers us a red herring argument about Noble Street’s darker, more disturbing contribution to our city’s educational disparity – Mr. Milkie’s good intentions and polished verbiage trick us to look at the Noble expelled as sacrificial lambs abandoned to the wolves – or neighborhood schools – for the good of the pack; in fact, we are looking at the wrong end of the spectrum. Noble’s true tragedy is what they take from the proverbial top, not what they kick out from the bottom.
Although it is true that Noble Street schools maintain a lottery of applicants – it is a skimmed lottery. The skimming occurs in the way in which parents get an application to enter the lottery. This application occurs only after the parent, or guardians, have attended a multiple hour – sometimes over three hours – meeting about the culture of Noble Street. I actually take no issue for the philosophical intentions of Noble Street to hold these meetings, but what the practical implications of skimming from these meetings does to the academic diversity in the rest of the city. There are few stronger statistical correlations between parental involvement and student success in school. Beyond common sense, study after study, has shown that parental involvement trumps just about any other statistical factor – with the exception of family income – that an educational researcher can find. These students even have a name in educational research “academically oriented” students. Academically oriented students outpace even their higher testing peers when it comes to g.p.a. school retention, and college persistence. Parental involvement –especially in communities in poverty- is the surest bet for a young person to achieve success by every measure of our society. These are the young people that Noble receives and educate. They are also the young people that are disappearing from our public, neighborhood schools. More importantly, these are the parents moving in mass toward each other from public schools into this charter chain.
As a parent myself I can also empathize with each one of the desperate and often C.P.S. scarred adults who strongly defend and protect this intimate and personal decision. I know I want the best for my own daughter, how can I fault any other parent? I don’t. Parents are used and mistreated by C.P.S. on a daily basis. My argument is not even with Mr. Milkie himself who I believe in his heart really does want what is best for kids.
My argument is with leaders of this school system who are charged with educating all children, not just those from academically oriented homes, and turn a blind eye to the growing three tiered system of selective enrollment, charter, and public schools that continues to decide the winners and losers not based on what is best for the community, or city; but what is best for the next election, real estate development, or church group he or she belongs to.
Mr. Milkie begins his article with an impressive statistic of projected college success with the qualifier: “if history repeats itself.” Yet, he does not need that qualifier. History will repeat itself at Noble. The schools that are run this way are perhaps the least risky bet in this entire district. His students will succeed. His ACT numbers will continue to rise. He will be given more schools to run. But Mr. Milkie and those who support charter school expansion have made a Faustian bet that they cannot ever take back. There is a price for their continued success. The price is that just like taking a troubled young person out of a classroom for a day improves the quality of an education; taking out an academically oriented child and his or her parents also decreases the quality of the schools of origin. Just as I teach better when the trouble maker is out of the room; my lessons and parental relationships suffer when these students join others like them at these educational havens for active and engaged parents.
As a city we do far greater harm to all of our children by continuing policies that only benefit a few. I remember when I was growing up and joined the local park district softball league they had tryouts before setting the teams. After the tryouts I found out that all my friends – all the best players – were split up onto different teams. Upset I asked my dad why they did that, after all, it made it seem like we were being punished for being good players and good friends. He smiled and told me that not only would I be a better player because the teams would be even, but that everyone would end the season better than when we started. And you know what, he was right. I will spend the rest of my professional life defending the “we,” over the “me.” It’s a hard argument, but it’s the right one: the noble one.