High school is especially tough for struggling students—and there’s a reason those are the years students usually drop out. But for the Noble Network of Charter Schools, high school is where the organization has proven that students can learn and excel.
Noble, which operates 16 high schools and one middle school in Chicago, won the 2015 Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools for its success in helping its more than 11,000 students advance academically and achieve higher graduation rates than the Illinois state average. That success is even more dramatic for Noble’s students of color and those from low-income families.
Serving a student population that is 95 percent African-American or Hispanic and 89 percent low-income, Noble consistently ranked among the top-performing public school districts in Illinois on measures like academic proficiency for African-American, Hispanic and low-income students in reading, math and science. Noble graduates a higher percentage of its students of color and low-income students than the statewide average. For example, 87 percent of Noble’s African-American ninth-graders graduate from high school in four years compared to 71 percent in Illinois. In 2015, Noble graduated its largest senior class of 1,500 students, with 100 percent of the class accepted to college and 90 percent enrolling.
Founded in 1999, Noble focuses on sending all students to college, with an increasing emphasis on supporting them through college graduation. The charter network provides its students more quality instructional time in school than most schools and sets high expectations for all. Noble’s college team counsels students, encourages sophomores to attend college programs and tracks alumni progress. The charter network developed what it calls The Robot, a customized Excel document that helps students explore college choices by showing them their likelihood of getting into college based on grade point average and ACT scores. The charter network’s goal is to achieve a 75 percent college graduation rate for its alumni by 2020.
“I started teaching math in Chicago Public Schools in the 1990s. I saw ‘Stand and Deliver.’ I became a wannabe Jaime Escalante. Charter school laws were being passed around the country. One got passed in Illinois. My fiancée, now my wife, who was teaching at a different public school in Chicago, had to coach me on what they [charters] even were. In the fall of 1999, we opened our first high school. Our students were complaining from Day One about the long hours and strict rules. Thankfully ’60 Minutes’ did their story on KIPP that very same fall. I turned on my VCR and taped it as soon as the stopwatch started. I showed it to my students and said, ‘We’re not the only ones doing this.’”
“My job is to worry about all our kids going to college and graduating from college. One of the things all of us working in education in the K-12 sector didn’t realize is how horrible the results are for kids going to college and not enough of them being able to persist. That’s depressing from one point of view, but it’s also this huge opportunity. If you can identify some things that are going to help your kids persist, it’s changing lives. In 2015, Noble graduated 1,500 seniors. If we can get 10 percent better, that’s 150 kids earning college degrees and having much better lives. Any way you look at it, it’s a really great thing. What gets me up in the morning is that everything I do is going to have a real impact on lives—and there’s the opportunity to have a lot of impact on a lot of lives.”