CHICAGO – In case you haven’t heard, there is a major push among the nation’s educators to reverse the trend of kicking trouble-making students out of school.

zero tolerance schoolThe idea is to change the focus to in-house punishment, to maximize the possibility of offending students remaining enrolled and eventually earning their diplomas.

To kick them out, the argument goes, is to guarantee their spot on the human scrap pile.

In Chicago, this line of thinking is about to grab the headlines. That’s because officials from Chicago Public Schools, mired in long-term, heated competition for students and government funding with the city’s charter schools, have released new data suggesting that charters expel students at a significantly higher rate than traditional schools do.

“The data reveal that during the last school year, 3,076 students were kicked out of charter schools, which have a total enrollment of about 50,000,” the Chicago Tribune reported. “In district-run schools, there were 182 kids expelled out of a student body of more than 353,000.”

In the current academic year, Chicago charter schools have already expelled 151 students, nearly three times the number expelled from public schools, the news report said.

CPS Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who openly opposes charter school expansion, seemed to suggest that the numbers illustrate a lack of commitment to struggling students by charter school officials, and a singular interest in only keeping outstanding students who reflect positively on their schools.

“I think there’s been a lot of supposition and conversation about what and how the charter success is measured, whether they throw kids out or keep kids in,” Byrd-Bennett said. “I think having the data is going to now lead to productive conversations.”

Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, took exception to that argument, noting that some charters were above the CPS average in expulsions, while some were below it. He also argued that the loss of a relatively few problem students will not significantly strengthen a school’s academic record, so there is no motive for charter schools to be quick with the expulsion trigger.

We have a completely different take on the matter. We believe schools are supposed to be calm, quiet places of learning, where serious students are the first priority and nonsense is not tolerated.

That’s why Chicago charter school officials should not be ashamed, even if their expulsion rates are through the roof. It means they are committed to maintaining the type of school where dedicated students can thrive without the distraction of rabble-rousing peers.

That’s why so many parents who value education send their kids to charter schools. If Chicago charters are pressured into lowering their standards, and operating more like typical Chicago public schools, something positive and special would be lost.

What options would remain for non-wealthy parents who want something better for their kids?

Strict standards equal success

This entire story calls into question the current move to minimize the number of expulsions and suspensions.

Just what are the public schools gaining by allowing violent students and other perpetual troublemakers to hang around permanently, particularly if they are not making academic progress?

The bottom line is that a lot of these children are huge distractions at school. The constant problems they cause, in and out of the classroom, disrupt the learning process. Too many teachers are forced to play the role of babysitter or security guard, instead of spending time working with the children who want to learn.

That’s not fair to the kids who are working hard to make something of themselves. The pace of learning is slowed for everyone when the focus shifts to maintaining order.

The traditional schools are also sending a troubling message to defiant kids – you can do pretty much whatever you want, because all you will get is a slap on the wrist, and we will never show you the door.

The goal should be the opposite – to get kids to understand that poor behavior will get you nowhere in life. If they leave school with the idea that anything goes and there is little or no accountability, they will face a rocky road in their adult lives.

The schools that tolerate troublemakers really aren’t doing them any service at all.

And what, on the flip side, are the charter schools gaining by quickly dismissing poorly behaved students? A serious, focused school environment where teachers and administrators can focus on academics and develop new strategies to help kids learn.

It’s interesting to note the track record of one of the charter networks singled out in the Tribune story for its high expulsion rate.

The Noble Network of Charter Schools expelled between 2 and 5 percent of its students in 2012-13, according to the Tribune. The Tribute story notes that the network has faced “backlash over its disciplinary approach.”

It just so happens that the Noble Network, with 14 Chicago campuses, has an 87 percent four-year college graduation rate, compared to an all-time high of 60.6 percent in CPS. Its recent average ACT scores have been around 20.5, compared to 17.6 for CPS (which was its highest average score in a decade). Seventy-nine percent of Noble graduates enroll in four-year colleges, while only 55 percent of CPS grads enrolled in any college following graduation in 2010.

The U.S. Department of Education issued the following statement about Noble schools:

“(Noble) has an exemplary track record of helping low income and minority students attain significantly higher achievement and graduation rates. Further replication would benefit additional students and strengthen the Chicago Public Schools system.”

In other words, the feds are saying that traditional CPS schools would do well to copy what Noble is doing, if they hope to be successful. Perhaps one smart strategy to copy would be to stop putting up with nonsense and maintain a strict, disciplined learning environment. That strategy would include getting rid of those students who offer nothing but headaches.

It doesn’t take a brain scientist to understand the correlation between a disciplined learning environment where positive standards are enforced, and academic success. And it’s not hard to understand why CPS students struggle when they are forced to go to school in chaotic environments.

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