Posts Tagged ‘Noble secret sauce’

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.

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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.