Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Does Indianapolis Have A Better Plan To Improve Schools?

Kyle Stokes/StateImpact Indiana

IPS superintendent Eugene White has repeatedly threatened to sue the Indiana Department of Education over its plan to take over a number of schools in his district.

Much of our coverage of the state’s take over of four schools in the Indianapolis area has focused on the Indiana Department of Education and its plan to convert those schools into charter schools.  But does Indianapolis and Superintendent Eugene White actually have a better plan than the state for improving these schools?

What does it looks like now?

According to the IPS, its primary focus in recent years has been graduating more students, rather than improving test scores.  In some cases, this initiative has been very successful.  Arlington Community High School was graduating fewer than 50 percent of its students in 2007.  That number improved to more than 74 percent in June 2011. Other schools in the district have seen similar improvements, but this has not happened across the board.  For example, Thomas Carr Howe Community High School has struggled to remain consistent. Their graduation rate spiked to 78 percent in 2009-2010 after receiving a federal school improvement grant, but has since dropped back down to 62 percent.

The IPS has had difficulty making across the board improvements to its standardized test scores, hovering up and down between 38 and 43 percent of students performing at grade level since 2005.  Most of the “failing” schools have mirrored this trend… only worse.  Arlington Community High School has declined from a 20 percent passage rate in 2005 to 14 percent in 2010.  Emma Donnan Middle School went from 39 percent in 2005 to 32 percent in 2010.

What have they done in the past?

To begin unraveling this question, it’s worthwhile to look at how the IPS is organized and how that organization has changed over the years.  Currently, Indianapolis has 38 elementary schools, three middle schools, three high schools, five community schools, and 12 schools classified as “other” schools.

Two of those categories maybe unfamiliar to most people. In Indianapolis, a community school refers to a school which aims to act as both a place of education and a center of community support.  For example, George Washington Community High School touts on its website that it partners with more than 50 organizations from health clinics to outreach programs.  Some of these are housed in the building.  Of the six Indianapolis schools on the state’s “failing” list, three are community schools and one community school is on next year’s list.

The classification “other” schools is less concrete and refers to a variety of curriculum models. One set of schools known as the Center for Inquiry, focuses on promoting intercultural learning. Another school, Crispus Attucks Medical Magnet School, has a curriculum which is designed to cater to student planning to enter science or medical professions.  Cold Spring School specifically focuses on teaching students about the environment and environmental issues.  Yet another school, the Shortridge Magnet High School for Law and Public Policy, specifically caters to students with an interest in law and politics. One school on the “failing” list falls into the category of “other” schools.

The other two schools on this year’s “failing” list include a traditional high school and one traditional middle school.

What is their plan now?

This is one component which has been lacking from the IPS’s public discussion of this issue. Implicit in the IPS’s plan to legally block the state take over is the idea that these schools will do better under local control than they will under private operators hired by the state.

While many of the schools did rewrite their individual school improvement plans, it could be argued that this was the result of earlier intervention from the state rather than an initiative originating with the IPS.  The state is also in a position to argue that any improvements which have been seen in the last year are the result of federal turn around grants and imposed mandates which are a condition of receiving this additional funding.


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