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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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.”

survey says

A new study shows where people live — not school districts — is to blame for continuing segregation in Indiana

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Students in IPS School 91's multi-age first-, second- and third-grade classroom work on math activities. The school is one of the district's high-performing integrated Montessori magnets that is attracting families from outside district boundaries.

Segregation between white students and students of color in Indiana remains high, according to a new analysis from Indiana University.

This is true even as Indiana sees a growing share of non-white students. IU’s Center for Evaluation and Education Policy conducted the study along with the Civil Rights Project at UCLA.

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“It is important for Hoosiers to recognize that research shows that segregated schools are systematically unequal,” said Gary Orfield, UCLA professor and co-director of the Civil Rights Project. “History shows that Indiana did much more about this problem before the courts withdrew and needs to think again about positive strategies.”

Orfield raises an important point about Indiana history. Although the Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education came down in 1954, Indiana outlawed segregation in 1949. Yet the state — and Indianapolis in particular — didn’t undertake meaningful integration efforts until years later. In many cases, those efforts were spurred on by federal court orders.

The study and accompanying interactive website, using data from the National Center for Education Statistics, were released Wednesday on the 63rd anniversary of Brown v. Board. The landmark case called for the mass integration of U.S. schools.

Researchers looked at data from 1988, seven years after Indianapolis had started its court-ordered desegregation busing program to bring inner-city kids out to township schools, through 2015. The city’s busing order officially ended in 2016.

The study finds that school segregation across the state is due, in large part, to where people live. Urban counties, such as Marion, Lake and Allen, see racial and ethnic segregation play out across and within school district boundaries, and both rural and urban counties are segregated by income.

As Chalkbeat reported last summer, decades of departures by middle-class families who flocked to the suburbs and the celebrated, yet controversial,  “Uni-gov” plan were followed by a spike in the percentage of segregated elementary schools in IPS compared to when busing began. Uni-gov merged some services between Indianapolis and Marion County in 1969, but not the school districts, which contributed to more segregated schools. Now, experts say, because of residential segregation, integration would be difficult if left to school districts to solve on their own.

On average, data shows non-white students are more likely to go to schools where more than half of students qualify for meal assistance, a common measure of poverty in a community. And black students in the state, on average, go to a school where 68 percent of kids are non-white, whereas white students, on average, go to schools where 19 percent of students are non-white.

Although the IPS school board has taken steps to make the district’s magnet schools more diverse, few discussions have happened regarding school segregation at a city or state level.

Researchers say they hope the information can help drive change across the state.

“An important goal of this project was to make data available to policy makers, educators, and the public in a user-friendly way so that they can explore the data at a state, regional or local level,” said research assistant Jodi S. Moon.

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.