Archives for category: Charters

The Noble Network is the leading charter chain in Chicago. It boasts of high test scores. It is the darling of the Chicago white elite, including such luminaries as former Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and billionaire Penny Pritzker, who served as Obama’s Secretary of Commerce. White apologists and admirers of the strict no-excuses discipline policy claimed that black and brown children needed the tough rules so that they could learn middle-class behaviors. David Whitman published a book praising “no-excuses” schools called Sweating the Small Stuff: Inner-City Schools and the New Paternalism, in which he praised the high-performing schools (mostly charters) that enforced “no excuses.” His book was published in 2008; in 2009, he became the chief speech-writer for Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who often lavished praise on “no excuses” charter schools.

The Noble Network wrote a letter to its alumni, apologizing for its strict “no excuses” policy, which it acknowledged was “racist.” Over the years, critics have said that the practices of “no excuses” schools are racist, but they were defended by charter advocates based on their test scores. They argued that the ends justified the punitive and harsh means. To be sure, the “no excuses” practices enabled charters to kick out the kids who did not conform and did not meet the school’s demands. The high suspension and attrition rates contributed to their “success.”

Chicago’s largest charter school network sent a letter to alumni this week admitting that its past discipline and promotion policies were racist and apologizing for them. The apology is notable not just as an acknowledgment of misguided policies, but as a repudiation of the “no-excuses” philosophy adopted by many charter schools during the 2000s.

For years, Noble Charter Network had an ultra-strict approach in which students, for example, got demerits for small offenses, such as not wearing a belt, not following a teacher with their eyes and failing to sit up straight or wear black dress shoes. After a certain number of demerits, students had to pay for behavior classes. If they continued to get demerits, they could be forced to repeat a grade, which led many to transfer out.

The email calls the discipline and promotion policies “assimilationist, patriarchal, white supremacist and anti-black,” according to the email sent to alumni on Monday. “We were disguising punishment as accountability and high expectations. We did not fulfill our mission to ALL students,” the email continues.

The letter set off a firestorm among former students, some of whom feel vindicated and others who say they think it was disingenuous. Some alumni point out the email did not explain what changes have been made, offer any type of reparations or ask for their feedback. Instead, the email includes a survey about whether they would want to participate in alumni events...

With about 13,000 mostly Black and Latino students, more than one in 10 Chicago public high school students goes to a Noble campus. For years, Noble’s “no-excuses, sweat the small stuff” philosophy was well-known and embraced by the school district and by some of the most prominent Chicagoans.

Its founder and chief executive officer Michael Milkie saw this approach as fundamental to the network’s success. He highlighted the fact that his schools, which don’t require a test for admission, out-performed neighborhood high schools. The Noble campuses are consistently highly rated with impressive high school graduation and college-going rates. Charter schools are largely publicly funded but privately managed.

Mayors touted Noble’s success and big donors such as former governor Bruce Rauner and the former U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and her husband Bryan Traubert lined up to support them financially. The organization’s most recent audit shows it brought in nearly $200 million in fiscal year 2020, the vast majority from tuition payments from Chicago Public Schools, to run its 17 campuses. It also raised $9.4 million last year.

But Noble’s campuses also had high student suspension and expulsion rates. Charter schools can set their own student discipline codes, and even as CPS changed its disciplinary practices to move away from suspension and expulsions in district-run schools, it never held Noble accountable for its practices.

In fact, in recent years, charter school suspension data has not been publicly available through the school district. But CPS officials are now applauding the apology by Noble. “All schools should continually self-evaluate biases and act to change them if a student group is being disproportionately impacted,” they said in a statement.

Noble is one of a number of charter school networks across the country, opened in the 2000s, that touted strict discipline and high expectations. Like Noble, these schools serve mostly low-income Black and Latino students. Facing criticism, many of them have backed away from the rhetoric of no-excuses.

Noble might be the first to ask forgiveness from alumni...

Some students say the super-strict discipline made them dislike school and changed their vision of themselves as students.

“For the most part, it felt like every day going to high school was dreadful,” Collins said. “At most high schools, the goal is to graduate and go to college. When I hit Hansberry, my only goal was to get through the day without getting into detention or getting suspended.”

Collins said she will never get back the innocence, time or money that the school took from her. She said she started getting demerits her freshman year in 2015 for coming late or not wearing a black belt or leaving class to go to the bathroom without an escort.

Up until 2014, Noble charged students for each demerit, but that practice stopped after it was revealed that Noble was catapulting families into debt and sending a collection agency after them.

Collins, who rarely got in trouble in elementary school, got so many demerits at Hansberry that she had to pay for several behavior classes.

Collins said her mother started to see her as a troublemaker. Then, at the end of her sophomore year, her demerits rendered her unable to be promoted. She left and went to Hyde Park High School where she graduated early. She’s now a student at Jackson State University in Mississippi.

Bill Phillis was Deputy Commissioner for the State of Ohio. He is now retired. He is a master of school finance and is a principled believer in public education, free and open to all. He founded the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy to track school finance and equitable practices. He has followed the theft of public money by charter frauds in Ohio for many years.

He writes here:

Betsy DeVos: School choice is a fundamental right

“The common school system in America was established as a public good, not a private consumable. The primary purpose of the system is to create and maintain a democratic society governed by public policies that promote an equitable social order. Horace Mann, the father of the great American common school said that education is the great equalizer of the conditions of men. He promoted public education as the balance wheel of social machinery.

“The constitutional provisions for education in nearly every state mandate and enable the establishment and maintenance of the common school system.

“Enactment of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) at the beginning of the 21st century was an affront to these state constitutional provisions. Congress, in defiance of the states’ responsibility for public education, in a frenzied effort to “fix” perceived problems in the system, passed NCLB. This legislation usurped the rights of states regarding education and local decision-making prerogatives. NCLB intruded into every classroom in America. The education community, being loyal soldiers, implemented the provisions knowing full well the mandates of the legislation were not in the best interest of students. NCLB has not improved student achievement and has diminished many critical educational opportunities. It, by design, has opened the choice-gate incredibly wide.

“In 2015, Congress modified NCLB with passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA.) But ESSA is of little help in repairing the damage caused by NCLB.

“Now comes Betsy DeVos. Education Secretary DeVos, in a major public address, recently stated there is no such thing as society. Further she said in the same address, it isn’t about school systems-it is about individual students, parents and families. In another address to the Brookings Institution, DeVos pronounced that school choice is a “fundamental right.” She seems to have no understanding of or appreciation for the purpose of the public school system.

“The school choice movement of this era is the antithesis of the common school movement of the 1800s. It challenges Ohio’s constitutional provision for a thorough and efficient system of common schools. Vouchers, tuition tax credits, education savings accounts, academic distress commissions (Youngstown Plan) and charter schools, all set aside the education provisions of the Ohio Constitution.

“School children have a constitutional right to participate in the Ohio common school system. Parents have a right to opt their children out of the common system but the state has no obligation to pay for their choice.

“DeVos may have a point that parents have a fundamental right to choose an alternative to the constitutionally-mandated common school; however, parents do not have the right to tax funds to pay for that choice.”

William L. Phillis | Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding | 614.228.6540 ||

Ohio E & A, 100 S. 3rd Street, Columbus, OH 43215

A new poll of parents, commissioned by the American Federation of Teachers and carried out by the independent and respected Hart Associates, finds that American parents do not share Betsy DeVos’s dim views about their public schools. Parents want better public schools, not school choice.

Big takeaways from the parent poll:

· Parents want good neighborhood schools over increased choice of schools

· More investments in traditional public schools, rather than diverting funds to charters/vouchers

· The biggest problems parents have with schools is inadequate funding, too much testing, bigger class size, and lack of support for teachers. DeVos’s agenda is at the bottom of the polling results in every way.

The poll of 1,200 parents of public school students includes African-American parents, Latino parents, and parents in 10 major cities: Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego and San Francisco.

The results are the latest in a series of polls released this summer and fall on people’s priorities for public education. Gallup released a survey last week showing support for public schools was up by seven points compared to 2012; PDK’s annual poll showed deep support for public schools and investments in wraparound services such as mental health services and after-school programs and resources to prepare students for successful lives and careers and strong opposition to funding vouchers for religious school; and the Education Next poll showed public support for charter schools fell by 12 percentage points over the past year

And then there is that nettlesome fact that the states with voucher plans have few takers. In Louisiana and Indiana, only 2-3% of students apply for vouchers for private and religious schools, and some of those students already attend nonpublic schools.

Hello, Betsy: Pay attention to the nearly 90% of American students who attend public schools.