When I read the news that Noble Street Charter Schools profited almost $400,000 from fining its low-income students under the guise of discipline, I could hardly believe it.  When I learned that Noble suspended 51 percent of all its students, 88 percent of its African American students, and 68 percent of its students with disabilities at least once in one year, I became very concerned. 

 As a member of Congress, I advocated strongly for the inclusion of detailed discipline questions within the recently-released Civil Rights Data Collection, a sample of schools by the Office of Civil Rights within the U.S. Department of Education.  Given the revelation of the Noble Street fees, I examined the data to better understand Noble Street’s discipline policies. 

I found that in 2009:

  • Noble Street suspended 51 percent of its students out of school at least once – almost 3 times the 18 percent rate of Chicago Public Schools (CPS). 

  • Although Noble Street has a lower percentage of African American students than CPS – only 30 percent in the sample – 53 percent of students suspended at least once were African American.  Moreover, nearly all African American students – 88 percent– were suspended out of school at least once, compared to only about one-third of African American students in CPS.

  • Noble Street suspended out of school 68 percent of its students with disabilities and 48 percent of its students without disabilities, compared to the respective CPS rates of 38 percent and 15 percent.

These statistics clearly demonstrate a striking, systemic problem with the Noble Street discipline practices. Student misbehavior cannot justify these numbers. 

Multiple studies question the effectiveness of punitive school discipline policies that mete out severe penalties for minor infractions, like Noble Street’s.  The research is clear that “get tough” approaches to discipline exacerbate academic difficulties for students, increase bad behavior, and fail to address underlying issues that lead to behavioral infractions. 

Multiple policies could help address the systemic discipline problems at Noble Street and other schools.  At the local level, CPS should closely scrutinize the discipline policies at its schools and integrate such issues into its charter renewal policies. I am pleased that Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard has affirmed his dedication to engaging students in developing positive behavior and reducing suspensions and other actions that remove students from the classroom and reduce learning. 

At the state level, the Illinois State Board of Education should include discipline within the state longitudinal data set. At the federal level, I will continue to push legislation to make schools safer, more-effective learning environments for students by promoting school-wide, evidence-based approaches to address discipline and improve school safety – approaches collectively known as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. 

I agree with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan who said that education is this generation’s civil rights issue.  Understanding the nature of discipline used and whether schools disproportionately discipline certain groups of students and reduce their learning time is critical to understanding if we are providing equal access to education.  I trust that Chicago Public Schools, the mayor of Chicago, and the Illinois State Board of Education will take steps to ensure that Noble Street and all CPS schools meet this requirement.

U.S Congressman Danny K. Davis represents the 7th District of Illinois.

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