There has been a lot of praise in recent months for the performance of charter schools here in Buffalo. There has been less understanding of how charter schools get that praise. With schools becoming battlegrounds and educators front-line soldiers, now might be a good time to announce the secret ingredient in charter school success. In a word, it's discipline, nothing more and certainly nothing less.
Charter schools succeed because they impose discipline, and they have expectations that students will not just show up every day but that they will learn. If a student doesn't exhibit that same commitment, the charter school has the right to drop the student.
Revolutionary ideas, right? The same formula prevailed in my childhood in parochial school. You paid for education, and you got education. If you acted up in school, you not only got punished in school, you also got punished at home. You knew what was expected of you, and you responded.
Public, non-charter schools must do the same thing if the system is to survive. Take discipline out of schools, and you not only diminish the chance of success for the serious student, but you place that student in jeopardy of serious injury. What parent is going to choose a climate of fear and an atmosphere of recklessness for his or her child? Anyone who can move will. They already are. Check population trends for the last two decades.
The failure to impose discipline is a failure of will. We once had the will to discipline students. We once had a place to house problem students. We never did a very good job of confronting the issue of problem students, but unless we do now, the cycle of violence inside the walls of our schools will continue.
Several years ago, Gov. Mario Cuomo proposed "boot camp" high schools, similar to the boot camp detention centers where young offenders were sentenced. Instead of placing a problem student in a six-week course at an "alternative" high school, the boot camp model would be a year-long program where discipline was taught as another subject, right alongside math and English and history.
Those who opposed the idea saw a predominance of African-American students populating a discipline high school. That kind of shortsighted, knee-jerk response ignores the fact that African-American students are not just the perpetrators of violence; they are the victims of it. The student cowering in fear from violence is African-American. The student denied a chance at quality education is African-American.
If we really care about race and education, we will recognize the responsibility to do whatever it takes to restore sanity and stability to the classroom. African-American students deserve a chance at a good education, in a school free from violence, as much as white students.
It is time to seize the moment to make schools safe and students unafraid. A disciplinary magnet school might be the last best hope. Even if it isn't, it's a good place to begin the dialogue.
Shirley A. Banko is a retired Buffalo teacher.