restart?

Three IPS schools put on notice: schools could be ‘restarted,’ teachers made to reapply

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
School 63

Three more struggling Indianapolis Public Schools have been officially put on notice: They could be “restarted” next year and all of their teachers could be forced to reapply for their jobs.

School 42, School 63 and John Marshall Middle School were all named by the district as candidates for conversion to “innovation” status following years of low test scores.

That means the school’s teachers would no longer be represented by the IPS union and their principals would be given more flexibility over curriculum, school hours and budgets. The schools would be run independently from the district but, unlike charter schools, would still be responsible to the school board.

The three schools named today are the latest to face possible conversion as part of a district effort to improve chronically failing schools.

Already, three failing schools converted to innovation status over the last two years, but there is not yet much evidence of whether the approach will achieve the lofty aim of fixing failing schools. Leaders have enough faith in the strategy, however, that they are pursuing plans to continue restarting schools.

In addition to restarting schools, the district has also allowed two successful schools to convert to innovation status and several charter schools have joined the network.

The IPS board plans to discuss these latest innovation conversions this week and will make a final decision early next year, according to Aleesia Johnson, who leads innovation schools for the district.

All three schools facing restart have been on the district’s radar for several years. School 42, a north side elementary school, is an IPS “priority” school, which receives extra attention and training from the district, and School 63, a west side elementary school, is part of the “transformation zone,” a state funded program that aims to improve district high schools and the elementary schools that feed into them.

John Marshall is also a priority school. Test scores at the east side school have been dismal for several years and a group of parents called for the district to improve the school in June. If the board converts the school to innovation status, it would be part of a larger transition because the district already plans to reconstitute the school, which currently serves grades 7-12, as a middle school as part of a plan approved by the board in August.

The schools are up for restart because they each have three or more years of failing grades on the state accountability system, a benchmark set by the IPS board. (Four other low-scoring middle schools in the district are eligible for restart, but those schools were already set to be closed as part of the middle school reconfiguration.)

At John Marshall, School 42 and School 63, district leaders will look more closely at other measures of school quality, including whether students are showing improvement on state exams, before making their final recommendations to the board in January, according to Johnson.

Because the schools have had several years of failing grades, the Indiana State Board of Education will also be monitoring the plan for improving them, Johnson said.

“We are trying to make sure we have a strong plan that we believe … the state board will be in support of us implementing,” she said.

At the schools that could be restarted, the district has already begun to hold meetings with teachers and parents to discuss the schools’ future.

If the board decides to convert the schools to innovation schools, the next step will be choosing partners to take over management.

Johnson said the district hasn’t selected partners. But there are a few clear possibilities. Earl Phalen, who runs a charter network that manages two innovation elementary schools, has said in the past that the network plans to open a middle school on the east side at John Marshall or another campus.

There also are two planned schools that are possible candidates to take over schools 42 and 63: The leaders of Paramount School of Excellence charter school are aiming to start a second campus as an innovation school. And, a planned charter school called Ignite Achievement Academy presented to the IPS board in November. Both schools received planning grants from the Mind Trust, a nonprofit that offers fellowships for leaders to plan innovation schools.

second chance

An embattled Harlem charter school that serves kids with disabilities will be allowed to keep its middle school — for now

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
Opportunity Charter School

A Harlem charter school will be allowed to keep its middle school next school year, despite the fact that top city education officials have repeatedly ruled that it is too low performing to stay open.

That decision offers at least temporary relief for Opportunity Charter School, which has been embroiled in a dispute with the education department since March. The disagreement centers on whether city officials properly took into account the school’s students — over half of whom have a disability — when it judged the school’s performance.

The city’s education department, which oversees the school as its charter authorizer, tried to close the middle school and offered only a short-term renewal for the high school when the school’s charter came up for review earlier this year. The school appealed that decision, and was denied late last month.

But the education department is backing down from its position — at least for now. That reversal appears to be based mostly on logistics: A Manhattan Supreme Court judge has temporarily blocked the closure through at least mid-July in response to a lawsuit filed by the school and some of its parents last month, complicating the process of finding students new schools outside the normal admissions cycle.

“Students always come first, and given where we are in the school year, we will allow the middle school grades to remain open in 2017-18,” education department spokesman Michael Aciman wrote in an email on Thursday. Still, he noted, the department will continue to push to close the middle school in the future.

Kevin Quinn, a lawyer representing Opportunity Charter, said the city’s decision was the only responsible one, given that the school has already held its admissions lottery and made offers to parents.

“This is a wise decision by the [education department],” Quinn wrote in an email, “and [we] appreciate their acknowledgment that placement of this population at this time would be significantly disruptive.”

language proficiency

Educators working on creating more bilingual students worry new state requirements aren’t high enough

A second grade class at Bryant Webster K-8 school in Denver (Joe Amon, The Denver Post).

Colorado educators who led the way in developing high school diploma endorsements recognizing bilingual students worry that new legislation establishing statewide standards for such “seals of biliteracy” sets the bar too low.

Two years ago, Denver Public Schools, Eagle County Schools and the Adams County School District 14 started offering the seal of biliteracy to their students. The three districts worked together to find a common way to assess whether students are fluent in English and another language, and recognize that on high school diplomas. Advocates say the seal is supposed to indicate to colleges and employers that students are truly bilingual.

A bill passed by state legislators this year that will go into effect in August sets a path for districts that want to follow that lead by outlining the minimum that students must do to prove they are fluent in English and in another language.

According to the new law, students must meet a 3.0 grade point average in their English classes and also earn a proficient score on the 11th grade state test, or on Advanced Placement or IB tests. For showing proficiency in the second language, students can either earn proficient scores on nationally recognized tests — or meet a 3.0 grade point average after four years of language classes.

Although educators say the law sends a message of support for bilingual education, that last criteria is one part of what has some concerned.

“It allows for proficiency in a world language to be established solely by completing four years of high school language classes,” said Jorge Garcia, executive director of the Colorado Association for Bilingual Education. “Language classes in one school district may have a different degree of rigor than they do in another.”

The second language criteria should be comparable to the English criteria, several educators said. In the requirements set by Denver, Eagle County and Adams 14, students must at a minimum demonstrate language proficiency through a test score, or in some cases with a portfolio review and interview if a test is not available.

The three districts also catered their requirements based on what each community said was important. In Adams 14 and in Eagle schools, students must perform community service using their language skills. Students also have to do an interview in both languages with a community panel.

“Our school district team developed the community service criteria because we wanted our kids to have authentic practice in their languages,” said Jessica Martinez, director of multilingual education for Eagle County Schools. “We also wanted students to be a bridge to another community than their own. For example, one group of students created academic tutoring services for their peers who don’t yet speak a lot of English. Another student started tutoring her mom and her parents’ friends so they could get their GED.”

The state law doesn’t require students to do community service. But it does allow school districts to go above the state’s requirements when setting up their biliteracy programs.

“Thoughtful school districts can absolutely address these concerns,” Garcia said.

Several school districts in the state are looking to start their own programs. In March, the school board for the Roaring Fork School District in Glenwood Springs voted to start offering the seal. Summit School District also began offering the seal this year.

Leslie Davison, the dual language coordinator for Summit, said that although her program will change in the next year as she forms more clear requirements around some new tests, she will continue to have higher requirements than the state has set.

This year her students had prove proficiency in their second language by taking a test in that language. They also had to demonstrate English proficiency through the ACT. In addition, students did oral presentations to the community in both languages.

“Their expectations aren’t as high as mine are,” Davison said. “We’ll probably stay with our higher-level proficiencies. I do have some work to do in terms of how that’s going to look for next year, but I certainly don’t want to just use seat time.”

Meanwhile, the districts that started the seal are increasing their commitment to biliteracy so as many students as possible can be eligible to earn seals in the future.

The Adams 14 school district in Commerce City is using Literacy Squared, a framework written by local researchers for teaching students to read English by strengthening literacy in the native language. The program is being rolled up year by year and will serve students in 34 classrooms from preschool through fourth grade in the fall.

In Eagle County, Martinez said parents have shown such a strong demand for biliteracy that most elementary schools are now dual language schools providing instruction to all students in English for half of the school day and in Spanish for the other half.

Both districts are also increasing the offerings of language classes in middle and high school. The options are important for students who are native English speakers so they too can become bilingual and access the seal. For students whose primary language is not English, the classes can help ensure they don’t lose their primary language as they learn English.

Of Eagle’s 25 students who graduated with a seal of biliteracy this year, 17 were native Spanish speakers and eight were native English speakers.

“We want all kids to see their bilingualism is an asset,” Martinez said. “It’s huge for them.”