Indianapolis Schools Divided

IPS board approves changes to magnet admission, opening doors to more diverse schools

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
Students at the Center for Inquiry at School 27.

Beginning next year, low-income students and children of color will have a better chance of admission to the most sought-after magnet programs in Indianapolis Public Schools.

At least that’s the intent of a plan approved Thursday night by the IPS school board that changes admission rules for the coveted programs, allowing more kids to win admission from outside the largely affluent neighborhoods where many of the schools are located and giving families more time to apply.

The board hopes the changes will make the process fairer for families and increase diversity in the district’s most popular schools.

“Magnet schools were born out of the civil rights movement and were intended to help school districts to reintegrate,” said board member Gayle Cosby. “We want to make sure that magnet schools are not actually serving a different purpose in our district.”

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READ MORE: Find the entire series here.

The change comes in the wake of a series on segregation from Chalkbeat and the Indianapolis Star that exposed how the old rules gave the most privileged families in the district an admission edge at sought-after schools.

All five members of the board who were present voted for the change, but some parents were skeptical. There was enough opposition from members of the community that Board President Mary Ann Sullivan held a last minute meeting this morning with dozens of parents who had reached out to the district. Many of the critics came from neighborhoods that will no longer have priority in admissions to the district’s top magnet schools.

Parents also raised concerns about the changes to the priority boundaries at the board meetings this week.

Hannah Kiger, a parent of two children at Center for Inquiry School 27, spoke Thursday about her experience as a resident in the Fall Creek neighborhood, an area where children will no longer get an advantage in admission to School 27.

When Kiger moved to the neighborhood, she said families she knew would leave when they had children because they did not like the public school nearby. After she and her husband had a daughter, they began looking at schools, she said.

“I was delighted to find out that the public school that she was districted for had become a magnet school,” Kiger said. “It gave us a good, realistic option for her.”

Kiger criticized the board’s process for developing the new plan, saying it did not take the neighborhood demographics into consideration and there were not enough opportunities for input from parents.

But there were also supporters of the new lottery rules.

Troy Montigney, also a resident of Fall Creek, said that making the schools more accessible to low-income families would help increase opportunities for children to escape poverty.

“Parents can choose from many high-quality education options,” he said. “Unfortunately, not everyone as the plan currently exists has the same opportunity to pursue learning at the schools affected by this decision.”

District staff expect that the changes will increase diversity at the most popular magnet schools because under the old rules, white students were much more likely to win spots than other students. At the Center for Inquiry Schools, for example, more than half of the kids who were admitted to the schools are white while just a third of the kids on the waitlist are white. Most of the kids who applied and didn’t get in were black or Hispanic.

That’s in part because the admission rules at the schools gave an edge to some of the most privileged students in the district by giving preference to students who live within about a mile of the schools. The schools’ early application also favored high-income families who are more likely to be savvy about school applications

Under the new rules, the district will continue to give families who live near magnet schools an advantage in the magnet lottery, but the priority boundary will be smaller, opening more seats for students who live in other parts of the city.

The deadline for applying for spots in the magnet schools will also be extended, with the addition of two lotteries later in the year so that families who don’t make their choice by the early-January deadline for the first lottery still have a chance of winning spots.

“I know that not everyone is going to be personally happy with these changes,” Sullivan said. “But in a sense, this problem is something that we should be celebrating, because we actually have more interest in our schools than we are able to meet.”

schools divided

Miss our discussion on school segregation? Watch it here.

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Panelists discuss school integration in Indianapolis at an event co-sponsored by Chalkbeat.

Last week a panel of educators, policymakers and experts gathered for a community conversation co-sponsored by Chalkbeat, WFYI, the Central Library and the Indianapolis Star about ways to address school segregation in Indianapolis.

As Chalkbeat reported earlier, the conversation capped a months-long discussion triggered by a series of stories from Chalkbeat and the Indianapolis Star since June that have explored the 21st century challenges of integrating schools by race and income while ensuring all students have equal opportunities to learn. About 140 people attended the discussion.

See the recording of the entire conversation below. If the video is not showing up, you can see it here.

Indianapolis Schools Divided

Panelist: Indianapolis should invite the suburbs to help integrate schools

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Ahmed Young (left), education director for the city of Indianapolis and Indiana University law professor Kevin Brown were among five panelists who discussed school integration in Indianapolis at an event co-sponsored by Chalkbeat.

In 2016, is there anything Indianapolis can do to promote integration in its schools?

The short answer is yes.

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READ MORE: Find the entire series here.

Panelists at a community conversation co-sponsored by Chalkbeat, WFYI, the Central Library and the Indianapolis Star said Wednesday suggested a range of strategies worth exploring. Some could be small, school-level changes designed to attract more diverse students and teachers. Other options they suggested would be broad challenges, like inviting suburban schools to commit to enrolling large numbers of black and Hispanic children.

The conversation capped a months-long discussion triggered by a series of stories from Chalkbeat and the Indianapolis Star since June that have explored the 21st century challenges of integrating schools by race and income while ensuring all students have equal opportunities to learn. About 140 people attended the discussion.

The series began as Indianapolis ended three decades of court-ordered busing that was designed to integrate city schools. Township schools have become more diverse in the years since busing began, but Indianapolis Public Schools have, in many ways, become more segregated.

The panelists at Wednesday’s event included Carole Craig, an Indianapolis education advocate; Louis Norris, associate director of student services for Perry Township; Mary Ann Sullivan, Indianapolis Public Schools board president; Ahmed Young, education director for the city of Indianapolis; and Kevin Brown, an Indiana University law professor who has studied school integration.

Panelists discuss school integration in Indianapolis at an event co-sponsored by Chalkbeat.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Panelists discuss school integration in Indianapolis at an event co-sponsored by Chalkbeat.

The panel agreed that there is much work to do, and that the city has not always taken the most productive steps to promote diverse and high-quality schools.

“We have done a disservice to Indianapolis,” Craig said. “We don’t have the resources because we have separated the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. We need to look at all of our interests as a big village that is all together as a community.”

Sullivan said IPS is taking steps to promote more school integration in the wake of stories in the series that examined inequities in magnet schools.

The board is moving toward a new funding system aimed at making schools more equitable and transparent, she said. It is working on changes to magnet school admissions to allow more kids from around the city to access the coveted programs and is changing the district’s lottery system to promote magnet options to more children who are poor, black and Hispanic.

“These are marketed to the public as districtwide options and they have not been working that way in practice,” she said of magnet schools. “We know many of our lower income families don’t even apply.”

But Craig said schools must also address internal inequities. High-poverty schools, she said, not only tend to serve more black, Hispanic and poor children, they also have less experienced teachers and more turnover for both students and teachers.

“Teachers with the best credentials do not, for the most part, want to go to segregated schools,” she said. “A critical factor is the teachers. You’ve got to be sure your teachers understand race, white privilege and what happened in America to make inequities and want to see it changed.”

With an explosion of charter schools in the city in the last decade, the panelists said promoting integrated schools has become even more complex. Some charter schools are among the city’s most racially isolated and others do not reflect the racial makeup of their neighborhoods.

Young called for stronger oversight by charter school sponsors. For example, he said the city is working closely with Herron High School as it expands to a second campus in the Riverside neighborhood to encourage enrollment practices that will attract students who reflect the neighborhood.

“How do we approach an enrollment system that is truly fair to make sure we can have a diverse school that reflects our community?” he said of the challenge. “It’s important to confront issues of race head on, even if it’s an uncomfortable issue.”

Really confronting the issue of school integration, Brown said, would require an especially uncomfortable conversation because it would have to include participation by suburban school districts. Just 21 percent of IPS students are white, making racial balance all but impossible without participation of suburban districts.

Because of court decisions, the suburbs can’t be forced to participate in such a plan, Brown said. But they could do so voluntarily. For instance, what if large suburban districts committed to enrolling 15 percent of students who are black, Hispanic or poor?

“The question is whether they would see it as something they want to do,” he said. “But if you really want to talk about integrating the schools in Marion County you have to be talking about the schools outside the county. There is nothing that prevents that but political will.”

One other integration approach the panel discussed was pushing for balance in schools among students from different income levels, a strategy that has drawn praise in Louisville.

Craig noted that The Oaks Academy, an Indianapolis private school, has successfully integrated by race and income by making a balanced enrollment a central academic strategy.

“I think it’s admirable what I have seen there and what they have done by intentionally having a certain percentage from each income group,” she said. “They have intentionally made it a point to have diversity. Those models are out there based on income.”