Case Studies

Noble Network of Charter Schools

Noble Network’s 17 high schools provide a rigorous education to over 12,000 Chicago students, most of whom are from low-income households. Its longer school day and year, its culture of discipline and excellence, its commitment to hiring outstanding staff members, and its freedom to innovate prepare its students for success in college and beyond.


“Our mission is to prepare our students for college and life, and to become a catalyst for change in education in Chicago,” says Michael Milkie, CEO and superintendent. “As a charter school, we have freedom to establish our own rules, and we fundamentally believe that freedom is essential to our success.” Noble can focus on hiring best-in-class teachers, principals, and support staff, regardless of their accreditation, and it can create bonus programs to motivate all staff members to meet their collective goal. Unhindered by many district rules, the network can establish initiatives such as fitness requirements, which affect students’ health as well as their academic success, and its college counseling program—which provides financial, academic, and social support and advice to current students and recent graduates.

The freedom to innovate is also passed down through the net- work’s principals, who Milkie says are “essentially entrepreneurs.” They can experiment with partnerships, approaches, and curricula in their schools, and many of those ideas then permeate through the network. “Good ideas tend to spread,” he adds.

Noble serves 10 percent of all Chicago public high school students, so it has both direct and indirect influence on the system. For example, Milkie says that district-run schools now give principals much more budgetary freedom because the network demonstrat- ed that this autonomy can help schools perform better.


Ninety-one percent of Noble graduates matriculate at college, which is almost double the national average. Noble also sends twice as many graduates to four-year universities as district schools do. Its alumni graduate from college at three times the national rate. Perhaps most notably, about 150 of its 10,000 alumni have come back to work for the network. “Our alumni become some of our best staff members. They have faced many of the same challenges our students are facing, so they are also great role models,” says Milkie.

How The Satter Foundation Has Helped

Noble appreciates the foundation’s long-term approach to change and how it gives grantees freedom to innovate. “Muneer and Kristen research who best merits support and then, having made that calculation, allow us to do it in a way that doesn’t require excessive mandates and reporting. That helps us serve students better,” says Milkie.

What's Next

“We are working toward enrolling 20 percent of district high school students, which is achievable under the right political conditions,” says Milkie. “We also want to impact those conditions, so we are working on informing, educating, and mobilizing parents to advocate for their child, for Noble, and for quality education for everyone.”

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