Posts Tagged ‘Noble charter schools’

Is “secret sauce” headed for the back burner?

Friday, February 7th, 2014

Today’s Tribune suggests that CPS may require charter schools to agree to more progressive discipline policies in order to win or renew their contracts.

CPS has been changing its discipline code in large part because of a powerful student-led campaign by Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE), with the support of its affiliate community-based groups. VOYCE has been working to dismantle CPS’s zero tolerance discipline code and replace it with a more effective policy that actually contributes to student learning,

This has got to be bad news for the Noble Charter Network. The recipe for Noble’s “secret sauce” – much loved by Mayor Rahm – is three parts oppressive discipline, one part sky-high fines, and one part push-out route for the unwanted student. The sauce may be headed for the back burner.

STNobleFrom the Tribune story:

Two years ago, Parents United for Responsible Education, which is against charters, released a report that showed that one of the district’s largest charter networks, the Noble Network of Charter Schools, had raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from disciplinary fees.

CPS has “a real public relations problem with some of the charter schools” that have used such tactics, said Julie Woestehoff, PURE’s executive director.

Here’s what I said at a 2012 press conference with VOYCE where we first exposed Noble’s oppressive discipline policies:

  • It isn’t “noble” to treat teenage students like two-year olds.
  • It isn’t “noble” to impose an arbitrary discipline system in which anyone can be punished and fined for almost anything.
  • It isn’t “noble” to pick the pockets of families who are already struggling with fees, fines and taxes that go higher and higher every day in Chicago.
  • It isn’t “noble” to treat your predominantly African-American and Latino students as though they are all potential criminals whose every movement must be harshly controlled.

Try to get on the right side of history, Noble Charters.


Pellet or pain: Oppression the “Noble” way

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

NoblePress2-12cropThe following post is a companion to the story above about Katie Osgood’s January 2014 testimony to the Chicago Board of Education, in which she stated that “far too many (Noble charter school students) are ending up in a psych ward.”

In February 2012, PURE, along with the Advancement Project and VOYCE, first publicly exposed the “secret sauce” of the discipline policies of the Noble Network of Charter Schools.

Using material from a Freedom of Information Act request, we found that Noble’s discipline system charges students $5 for minor behavior such as chewing gum, missing a button on their school uniform, or not making eye contact with their teacher, and up to $280 for required behavior classes. 90% of Noble students are low-income, yet if they can’t pay all fines, they are made to repeat the entire school year or prevented from graduating. No waivers are offered, giving many families no option but to leave the school. We pointed to a recent Illinois State Board of Education report showing that 473 students, or 13% of the previous year’s student body, transferred out of Noble over the summer of 2010.

While some defended Noble’s policies, others reacted with shock and disapproval, including Congressman Danny Davis and State Senator William Delgado, chair of the Illinois Senate Education Committee, and media pundits  (also here).

Does Noble incentivize its “push-out, shaming, and abuse”?

We began to hear rumors that there might actually be some incentive for Noble teachers and other staff to assign student demerits, and that there are other odd employment practices at Noble. We also learned that Noble teachers are required to sign a non-disclosure agreement with the charter network, which makes it quite challenging to break through the secrecy of Noble’s practices.

In order to learn the facts, PURE filed additional Freedom of Information requests and eventually acquired guidelines for each campus for staff bonus systems, campus audits, and the like. Overall, this material reflects a Byzantine set of rewards and punishments, an elaborate pellet-or-pain system for staff that mirrors the student discipline code.

Each Noble school has its own version of the staff bonus/demerit system, but they are clearly written off of a central plan with few deviations.

What we found

The campus audit: This is apparently a regular site visit whose results affect the bonuses of all staff.

  • Items reviewed during the audit include “no trash on the floor; binders, books, etc. should be properly propped up; void of chewing gum; distracting/disrespectful students addressed; toilets should be flushed.”
  • The audit also closely tracks staff implementation of the student discipline code (including Acting SMART*, SAVE – Speak in Standard Vernacular English) incorporating the extensive student dress code.

The bonus system: Besides the campus audit, there are additional, exhaustively detailed lists of ways to gain points towards a monetary bonus and, conversely, to lose points, which impacts your various eventual monetary bonuses.

  • Items included in the bonus point system encompass achievement data, discipline status, attendance, and adherence to all other rules and requirements.
  • Possible bonuses range from as much as $50,000 for principals based on results in 10 categories, to $25 for the assistant dean of discipline for each locker sweep.

Is there a monetary incentive to give students demerits?

We did not find a direct monetary incentive for awarding demerits, fines, or LaSalles, which is what most Noble schools call detention. However, all of the Noble behavior systems include a loss of points for staff members who do not consistently and at all times enforce all of the behavior systems, and that goes all the way up the line to the principals, who can lose some of their bonus money if their staff does not enforce the rules.

  • Staff receive bonus points when 80%-100% of their students are not in LaSalle DAILY. That means that you lose NO POINTS if up to 20% of your students are in in-school detention EVERY DAY.
  • Since you will lose points if you do not give out demerits, and you can get a bonus even if 20% of your students are in detention on a daily basis, you are actually incentivized and can receive monetary bonuses if you successfully give out a certain number of demerits every day.

For example:

At Noble JC Pritzker:

The Assistant Dean of Discipline can earn significant money based on how many JCP students have 36 or less detentions at the conclusion of the school year. If no JCP students have more than 36 detentions (appx one per week), the assistant dean gets $500. But even if 10% of the students have more than one detention per week, the ADD still earns $300. And the ADD can also lose incentive points if students are NOT “properly” disciplined.

Here’s how it breaks down at Noble JCP:

>90% with less than 36 detentions = $300;

>95% = $400;

>100% = $500

At Noble Rowe Clark:

Staff can earn PRPs = Professional Responsibility Points

  • According to the RC staff handbook, a PRP is similar to a demerit; a mulligan is what they call a PRP that does not count against your bonus.

For example, here’s what the RC staff handbook tells staff to do to earn PRPs in the area of the discipline and dress code: consistently assign demerits, students not leaning on the walls and they do not have their feet on the bookrack. Collar of polo showing with sweatshirt, chain not exposed outside of polo


There is a whole lot more of this, but you get the picture.

The bottom line is that Noble’s “secret sauce” is no more than a carefully-worked out system of oppression.

Here’s how that works, according to Just Conflict, a group that promotes creative conflict resolution:

Built into the very fabric of our society are cultural values and habits which support the oppression of some persons and groups of people by other persons and groups. These systems take on many forms but they all have essentially the same structure:

Patterns of Abuse: Systems of oppression are created by a series of acts of abuse which establish and maintain dominance.

Social Justification: These acts are justified by the dominant group in the dominant culture as being ways to maintain the “appropriate social order.”

Secrecy: Nevertheless, the specific acts of abuse themselves are hidden in some sense from public view. They are not to be witnessed.

Internal distress: And the conflicts that appear to be between the oppressor and the oppressed are actually conflicts that are interior to the oppressor but acted out in relationship to the oppressed.

That last point may explain why Noble is a business created by a white man with a student body of nearly 100% students of color. I guess it was either inventing Noble’s “secret sauce” or founding a military school.

Hedge funders latest plan? More experimentation on CPS children

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

The latest offer of “help” from the hedge fund crowd comes from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, which is establishing ELP Venture, a “venture philanthropy fund” to offer rewards for more education innovations to inflict on CPS students.

According to the Sun-Times, “Rather than focus on proven reforms, the group hopes to develop ‘the new, yet-to-be-proven reform,’ said class member Gillian Darlow, a principal at Civic Consulting Alliance.”

How have they done so far? Well, Global Council Chair, Bruce Rauner, was one of the corporate brains behind SB7 and its 75% “strike-proof” vote standard that was supposed to be too high for the Chicago Teachers’ Union to meet. We know what happened there. Rauner also supports the Noble charter network schools, one of which is named after him. We all know what those schools are like.

Rauner admits to his lousy track record in education reform: he “warned the group that the ‘school improvement wars’ was an important struggle but also was ‘ugly, dirty’ and ‘not fun.’ He said he provided $20 million to help with education reform and 80 percent of it was ‘wasted.’ ’’

But now they’re going to collect $10 million to fund more “unproven” boondoggles.

Hey Bruce – why don’t you mess around with your own children’s schools for a while and leave ours alone?

More 100% bull from Noble

Monday, June 11th, 2012

The first head-shaker this morning was Rahm in his own words extolling an improved CPS graduation rate but writing almost exclusively about the great things going on at the private, religious school, Christ the King, where he was speaking. Does he ever pay attention to where he is before he speaks?

He still managed to spout the “100% seniors graduated 100% seniors accepted at college” bull that has become so prevalent. Geez, these privately-run boutique high schools are going to have to come up with a new schtick pretty soon if they are going to keep the attention of the (“Squirrel!!!”) foundation community.

This time it’s Goldner, another Noble school. The Sun-Times reports that Goldner did the 100-100 – but they do not mention how many students left before their senior year. And you can’t find out anywhere anymore. CPS took down their research site. I guess too many of us were getting too many facts there. The state report card won’t tell you how many students were freshmen at Goldner four years ago because the Noble Network was still aggregating all their school data then. The annual charter school reports on the CPS web site have become so bare-bones that they are pretty worthless as an accountability tool.

But here’s another 100-100 story that we can refute. Noble Comer College Prep mom Donna Moore sent me this link with the comment that there were 150 freshmen at Comer during the school’s first year, and only 106 (her estimate) who graduated. Yet principal claims he and, of course, the staff, got “every low-income student to college.”

Of course, we all know by now what else Noble is doing to every student. 100% wrong.


Diane Ravitch on public school “national threat”

Monday, May 21st, 2012

If you take the time to read Diane Ravitch’s latest book review, “Do Our Public Schools Threaten National Security?” you will be rewarded with one of her best critical summaries of corporate reform propaganda.

She recaps several generations of alarm-raising about public education, concluding,

Somehow, despite the widely broadcast perception that educational achievement was declining, the United States continued to grow and thrive as an economic, military, and technological power….How is it possible that this nation became so successful if its public schools, which enroll 90 percent of its children, have been consistently failing for the past generation or more?

The current red-flag-waving book is a report by the Council on Foreign Relations headed by former NYC schools Chancellor Joel Klein and former Bush Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. According to Ravitch,

What marks this report as different from its predecessors, however, is its profound indifference to the role of public education in a democratic society, and its certainty that private organizations will succeed where the public schools have failed. Previous hand-wringing reports sought to improve public schooling; this one suggests that public schools themselves are the problem, and the sooner they are handed over to private operators, the sooner we will see widespread innovation and improved academic achievement. The report is a mishmash of misleading statistics and incoherent arguments, intended to exaggerate the failure of public education.

My favorite part is seeing PURE’s expose of the Noble Street Charter Network’s fine-based discipline policy nicely worked into Diane’s argument that charter schools have not lived up to the hype.

The task force asserts that charters will lead the way to innovative methods of education. But the charters with the highest test scores are typically known not for innovation, but for ‘no excuses’ discipline policies, where students may be fined or suspended or expelled if they fail to follow the rules of the school with unquestioning obedience, such as not making eye contact with the teacher or slouching or bringing candy to school or being too noisy in gym or the lunchroom.

The real threat to national security is squeezing the democracy out of our schools with such “reform school” approaches replacing efforts at real school reform, and with standardized testing narrowing the curriculum so that our schools are simply no longer able to produce informed citizens. And, I guess, that’s what the Joel Kleins of this country are really after.


Guess the Tribune really hates…flaming chips

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

Oh, and me.

Folks, take a look at this Tribune editorial slamming me for being against discipline and Nobility, and you’ll see what it looks like when you hit a nerve.

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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.