The 2015 Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools goes to the Noble Network. The network recently dropped plans to open up schools in Uptown and Rogers Park. Credit: Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
Michael Milkie is co-founder of Noble Street Charter Schools.
Michael Milkie

The Noble Network of Charter Schools, which runs 17 schools in Chicago, has won the 2015 Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools, a $250,000 award to use toward college readiness.

“There are so many charters across the country, so to be chosen is really rewarding,” says Michael Milkie, Noble’s founder and CEO. “Our most important thing is that our teachers and staff got recognized nationally.”

The majority of the $250,000 award will go toward supporting former Noble students who are now in college. According to the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the money must be used toward college readiness within three to four years.

Noble won the award based on a comparison of quantitative data – including state assessments, graduation rates and ACT scores – from charter school networks with at least five campuses. RTI International, an independent research non-profit, compiled data from 340 individual schools within the 20 charter networks for this year’s prize.

Noble was chosen due to its “pattern of high results,” specifically its graduation rate, says prize director Nancy Que. Last year, schools in the network on average graduated 78 percent of students who started at the same high school as freshmen.

Noble Street has been in the news recently for its decision to withdraw proposals to open schools in the Uptown and Rogers Park neighborhoods on the North Side. In Rogers Park, opposition from the community, including principals at neighborhood high schools, helped scuttle the plan.

The network has in the past drawn heat from parents and others for its rigid discipline and the practice of assessing fines for minor infractions.

The charter school award was launched in 2012. The other two finalists were the Achievement First network in Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island; and the IDEA Public Schools network in Texas.

Paul Pastorek, who chairs the Broad Center Board of Directors* and helped pick the prize winner, says Noble’s  concentration on high schools played a role in the award. “It’s challenging to take kids who are way behind and it gets more challenging as they get older,” Pastorek says.

Providing recognition is also important. “We want to recognize that people are making changes in the lives of kids where we sometimes think it is too difficult to improve,” he says.

The Broad Prize for Urban Education, which has been offered to traditional school districts since 2002, was not awarded this year. The foundation said their decision to halt that prize was due to low achievement in the nation’s largest school districts.

The Noble Network enrolls over 10,000 Chicago students at 16 high schools and one middle school. The vast majority are black or Latino and lower-income.

Noble will also give $10,000 each to the other two finalists, inspired by a similar decision made by the 2014 winner, KIPP Charter Schools.

* This story was corrected on June 24, 2015, to reflect that Pastorek chairs the Broad Center’s board of directors.

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