State Superintendent Tony Bennett underwent a thorough grilling from the press yesterday in an attempt to uncover every last possible answer to any question that might possibly be connected to the state’s plan to convert four Indianapolis schools into charter schools. Even so, there still remain many questions which have yet to be answered.
1. What happens to the students?
Students can leave these schools and transfer to one of the remaining IPS high schools, but what happens to those students who decide to stay? The state has not released any formal transition plan and many of the students in these schools have already seen monumental changes in the last two years.
Some IPS schools replaced more than half of their teaching staff at the end of the 2009-2010 school year. Beyond this, many of these schools already had assigned “turn around” partners who spent the the last few years making significant changes to each schools’ curriculum.
While state officials have said that they do have a plan for helping students with the transition, very few details of this plan have actually been released.
2. Who gets fired?
Dr. Bennett has said this will be left up to the schools’ new operators. In some cases, these schools have already seen massive shifts in their staff. For example, IPS leadership fired the entire administration and 60 percent of the teachers at George Washington High School at the end of the 2009-2010 school year.
One thing that is clear, is that the state plans to give these operators much wider power over staffing decisions than is usually enjoyed by traditional school districts.
3. What are the nut and bolts of the plan?
The state plans to sign two separate sets of contracts with each of the three charter operators. The first is a one-year “transition” contract. The second is a four-year operating contract. What’s difference? No body seems to know.
Tony Bennett claims the details of the transition will be included in the respective contracts, which will be made public after they have been signed. Until that time, no further details are likely to be forthcoming.
4. What does success look like?
How much improvement is good enough? Dale Chu should be the man with the answer. He runs the legal and policy division of the IDOE. Chu put together the takeover proposal, selected the operators, and conducted site visits at several of the so called “failing” schools.
When asked this question, he said the details of this would be worked out in the contract, with each school being evaluated on an independent basis.
Which is odd coming from a man who helped author and promote some of the most aggressive and broad based assessment reform in Indiana history just five months ago. On the one hand, his response seems to imply that these schools will receive special attention. The other hand, the IDOE has repeatedly claimed that these schools will be held to the same objective standards as every other school in Indiana.
5. How will the community react?
This is not the first time a state has attempted to take over large parts of a school system which it perceives to be under performing. This is not even the first time a state has attempted to forcibly convert a large number of schools into charter schools.
In 1998, Philadelphia attempted a similar move in response to poor performance at many of its schools. The effort was met with heavy resistance from students, parents, and community members who accused the state of Pennsylvania of intentionally setting up the Philadelphia district to fail, so that it could be taken over.
Whether this is true or not, similar accusations have been filtering out of the Indianapolis Public School system. IPS superintendent Dr. Eugene White has flatly said that he believes the state’s assessment model has more to do with promoting a political agenda than with accurately evaluating schools.