No-excuses charter students more likely to enroll in competitive, four-year colleges

No-excuses charter students more likely to enroll in competitive, four-year colleges
Controversial educational approach
leads to postsecondary success for Chicago students

October 13, 2016—No-excuses charter schools raise test scores but also questions: is the popular educational approach a fad with short-term effects, or an innovative solution with long-term student benefits? In a new article for Education Next, Matthew Davis of the University of Pennsylvania and Blake Heller of Harvard University take a close look at Noble Street College Prep in Chicago, where administrators set high expectations for students and see long-term results. The authors report that students who attend Noble are not only more likely to enroll in college after graduation, but also more likely to enroll in a competitive four-year institution and stay enrolled for at least four semesters.

Noble Street College Prep admits students via randomized lottery, allowing the authors to estimate the effect of attendance on postsecondary outcomes by comparing Noble students to their peers who lost the lottery using college enrollment data from the National Student Clearinghouse. Davis and Heller find that enrolling in Noble for any length of time increased college enrollment by 13 percentage points. Attending Noble made students 15 percentage points more likely to attend a four-year college and 14 percentage points more likely to attend a college where the median two-subject SAT score was above 1000. They were 12 percentage points more likely to stay enrolled for at least four semesters.

Founded in 1999, Noble Street Charter School in Chicago has since expanded to a network of 17 high schools enrolling more than 11,000 students. The student population is 98 percent African American or Hispanic and 89 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced lunch. During the period covered by the study, Noble students received 858 more hours of instruction than the average Chicago Public Schools student—which amounts to nearly three-quarters of a year of additional class time. Noble schools implement other key practices associated with no-excuses charter schools, including frequent teacher feedback, data-driven instruction, high-dosage tutoring, small-group learning, and high expectations.

The authors’ lottery-based analysis focuses on three cohorts of students who enrolled in the flagship Noble Street campus between 2003 and 2005. However, they also measured long-term student success in a nonexperimental analysis of 104 Chicago high schools, including seven Noble network schools, examining average college enrollment rates in the graduating class of 2013. They find that, across all seven Noble high schools with graduating seniors in that year, students were 19 percent­age points more likely to enroll in college than one would predict based on their incoming ability, suggesting that the network has continued to produce positive results as it has expanded.

No-excuses charter schools can produce long-term academic benefits, say Davis and Heller. “Our results are the first to conclusively demonstrate that a high school intervention can simultaneously improve overall college enrollment, persistence, and quality.” They also highlight that Noble’s success demonstrates how efforts in high school can turn around the effects of an inequitable early childhood education.

To receive an embargoed copy of “Raising More Than Test Scores: Does attending a ‘no excuses’ charter high school help students succeed in college?” or to speak with the authors, please contact Jackie Kerstetter at The article will be available Tuesday, October 18 on and will appear in the Winter 2017 issue of Education Next, available in print on November 18, 2016.

About the Authors: Matthew Davis is a doctoral student in Applied Economics at the University of Pennsylvania. Blake Heller is a doctoral student in Public Policy at Harvard University.

About Education Next: Education Next is a scholarly journal committed to careful examination of evidence relating to school reform, published by the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance at the Harvard Kennedy School. For more information, please visit

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