Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Has The Community School Model Failed In Indianapolis?

Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana

A student looks for a book in the George Washington Community High School library on Monday, August 29.

Most staff at George Washington Community High School were relieved not to be taken over. In fact, most staff are excited to see how two outside groups the state has appointed to partner with current administrators can help the school.

But just because the school avoided takeover doesn’t mean most staff are okay with Washington, located on the city’s west side, being labeled a “failing” school.

Indianapolis Public Schools officials and several members of the school’s staff argue the state’s ratings miss a crucial point: Community schools, like Washington and three of the public schools facing state takeover, aren’t designed to improve test scores. They’re modeled to improve urban school graduation rates.

Community schools teach middle school and high school-aged students under one roof, offering after-school activities and community services — Washington has a community pool, fitness center, and student health clinic. The community school model is based in the idea that if educators can engage an urban student in middle school, they have a better chance of getting that student to graduate from high school.

But the catch, administrators freely admit, is that the school does not immediately boost test scores for students in middle school — and in Washington’s case, a decline in middle school test scores was enough to land the school on the Indiana Department of Education’s failing school list again.

“What we can show is that when we have [students] over time in a consistent, supportive environment, that we can do dramatic change with kids,” says Washington principal Deborah Leser. “But it doesn’t happen in a year. It doesn’t happen in two years.”

Between 2009 and 2010 — in the course of a year, actually — Washington’s non-waiver graduation rate jumped 8.5 percentage points to 58.2 percent. Its overall graduation rate has climbed more than 25 points since 2007 to 68 percent in 2010.

But a school’s ranking under Public Law 221 is calculated using test scores, not graduation rates. Because of an 8 percentage-point decline in Washington’s 2011 middle school passage rate on state standardized tests, the state placed the school on its intervention list — despite a 15 percent jump in its high school test scores.

(IPS officials don’t think that’s fair; the Department of Education says it’s the standard to which it holds all combined middle-and-high schools.)

Leser says it feels as though the state’s targets “are always moving,” and worries about talk she hears that ratings will be calculated differently next year — especially when the school’s focus on graduation rates over standardized test scores, she says, puts Washington at a disadvantage:

Now we’re above the state average on graduation rate, but, we’re still in trouble because our test scores aren’t high enough. Why aren’t our test scores high enough?  Well, the change that we made to improve our graduation rate is a change that hurts us on the test scores… We’re showing these big improvements, our kids are performing closer to where they want to be — and they’re not there yet — but in some cases, 30-40 percent higher on their test scores than [at other schools], but we’re on the list, and [other schools] are not, and I think the question is, why would that be?

Tamika Riggs graduated from George Washington back in 1993. She recalls growing up in Indianapolis projects with her mother, who had Riggs when she was 14 and raised her on her own. She also remembers the school environment, while not being rough or unsafe, being relatively unstructured.

Now, after putting herself through college and earning her masters, Riggs runs Washington’s after school program. She says the change in the school’s atmosphere is evident.

“If you walk the hallways here, you very rarely see a student in our hallway that doesn’t have a purpose. Rarely. And not only that, just academically, I can tell that our students are really starting to take their education more seriously,” Riggs says.


  • Perspective

    Hi, was a student George Washington Community HIgh School and Arsenal Technical High School. Pardon the small rants here and there, but they help convey some emotion about the matter that seems important to understand a student.

    Going back to review this I deiced the top problem is the illegal classroom sizes. You read it right, illegal classroom sizes. Thanks to the heads in the Nations capital or IPS themselves, IPS has a shortage of teachers, if not, SPACE for the kids.

    The second problem is the parents, which in turn lead to disciplinary rules because kids act up (seriously there’s a lot if fights at Tech, hardly any at Washington) that are arbitrary and detrimental. The drawback of treating the symptom and not the problem is that students, like myself, become less interested in everything the school has to offer. It’s like a barrier around the school, as soon as you enter a couple of things die inside of you.

    Third problem, some of the staff is evil. When I say evil, I mean that some of them get kicks out of controlling and commanding kids. I’ve noticed that if there’s a problem they are quick to refer to the “system”. Set of ordinances that dictate what happens to the kid if he commits an “offense”. It’s like prison. They are much LESS likely to sit down with the kid and have a heart to heart about what’s causing them trouble.
    Not only that, but the fact the school police are sent to collect students just makes it all the more feel like prison, not to mention the feeling in the back of your head about the cameras. Constantly being watched, IS A HORRIBLE FEELING. Prisoners in the Black Dolphin can tell you this.

    Most if not all of the kids hate school, when a kid is mad, sad, or feels robbed, think they want to do good in school? Bad grades is an obvious marker of a problem brewing (whether at home, with fellow student, or I don’t know THE SCHOOL ITSELF?)
    WE HATE SCHOOL, (and HATE IS A POWERFUL WORD, NOT TO BE USED LIGHTLY) fix that and we’ll do you’re tests and work a lot more diligently and “safely”. Watch The War on Kids. Sums it up nicely, and has extra information for parents.

    Also, if you find you’re self saying, “you’re not supposed to like school.” You’re an idiot. No, I’m not lying, you are a primitive Idiot. It’s about putting the kid in the right mindset for school.

    Also, Ritalin and Adderall DO NOT HELP. They screw kids up NOT help them.

    Uniforms. IT IS ARBITRARY, STUPID, MORONIC, any damn word that makes stupid look like smart.

    IPS forces it’s kids to be less creative, and they’ll deny this too. Do you’re own research on this if it may interest you.

    Only classes that were awesome was science and literature. I say they’re awesome because once imagination and genuine curiosity took over, everything else was easy. (If you were lucky to get a real teacher who cared and knew how to deliver a lesson.)

    OMFG, the sap teachers. The one that sucked the life out of the kids like a thousand leeches at once.

    They’d get up in the classroom and drone on making kids hate Math or any other subject. One took PEMDAS and made it an ocean full of tears and yawns when it was SIMPLE ORDER OF OPERATIONS. It puzzled and surprised me that subjects could be so boring when I loved almost everyone. Learning is fun when kids are happy, it’s not a lie, i swear it isn’t. The happiest kids (with both mother and father with common sense in the household) usually did the best.

    Don’t be so quick to write off parents as a problem, the worse the parents usually the worse the kid.

    Honestly, I hated it so much that I was okay with being truant, and many kids who tried truancy even if was just once would say it was for the same reason, they hated school, and with good reason.

    Glad you’re gone Dr.White.

    This has been a rant from an IPS student, currently enrolled.

    The name has been fudged, I don’t want to get suspended, surprise bad grades or missing credits.

    • Ri


About StateImpact

StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives.
Learn More »