School closings

3 high schools could close under Indianapolis Public Schools plan (updated)

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Update (May 11, 2017): This story has been updated to include an additional meeting added to the schedule by IPS and an updated location for the May 15 meeting.

Indianapolis Public Schools will close three high schools in the coming years if the school board approves a recommendation from the administration. But it’s not yet clear which schools face shutdown.

Decades of enrollment declines have left the district with high schools that collectively enroll less than half as many students as they were built to educate. District leaders have been contemplating closing schools for months, but the outlines of the plan are just beginning to take shape. There is already a plan in motion to convert John Marshall High School to a middle school this fall, leaving seven other high schools. A report from a district facilities committee released Friday calls for keeping four IPS high schools open — and shutting the doors at three unnamed schools.

A Chalkbeat analysis last July revealed that empty class rooms are driving up costs at IPS high schools, and the district anticipates that it would save as much as $4 million per year by closing three schools.

The recommendation marks the beginning of a planning process that is expected to last until the fall, when the board plans to vote on closing high schools.

The committee will present their recommendation to the board at a meeting 6 p.m. Tuesday at School 15, 2302 E. Michigan St. Community members can sign-up online to offer comments.

Read our prior coverage for more details:

IPS will host four community meeting before making a decision:

6-8 p.m. April 26
Glendale Library
6101 N. Keystone Ave.

6-8 p.m. May 1
Ivy Tech Culinary Center
2820 N. Meridian Street

6-8 p.m. May 11
Zion Hope Baptist Church
5950 E 46th Street

6-8 p.m. May 15
Hawthorne Community Center
2440 West Ohio Street

6-8 p.m. May 18
Garfield Park Burrello Family Center
2345 Pagoda Drive

School closings

Indianapolis Public Schools is about to reveal which high schools are likely to close. Here’s what you should know.

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
The Indianapolis Public Schools administration is about to announce which high schools they aim to close.

The wait to learn which Indianapolis high schools could close is almost over.

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is expected to release his recommendation next week, following an Indianapolis Public Schools report calling for three of its seven high schools to close. The administration recommendation will also include plans for where magnet programs at closed schools could move and what might happen to the vacant buildings.

The board plans to vote on which high schools to close in September. Before a final vote, the district is expected to hold meetings at each of the schools targeted for closure.

The board will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday at the IPS central office, 120 E. Walnut St. Community members can sign-up online to offer comments.

Here are four things you should know ahead of the decision:

1. Some high schools are (virtually) safe from closure.

Although Ferebee and other district administrators have been close-lipped about which high schools are most likely to close — the list of criteria is so expansive it’s difficult to draw any conclusions — some schools are in far more danger than others.

It would be stunning, for example, if the administration recommended closing Arsenal Technical High School, the district’s largest high school and a hub for career training programs. Other schools seem far more likely to face closure, including the beloved art magnet Broad Ripple High School. The building is expected to be less than 30 percent full this fall and it has the highest per student spending in IPS.

Read Chalkbeat’s analysis of each IPS high school.

2. The effect on current and future students can’t be easily predicted.

The district expects to have more than twice as many seats as there are high school students next year. IPS leaders says closing schools could save more than $4 million per year and allow the district to invest in more advanced classes and career and technical education programs at the four remaining high schools.

But research on how closing high schools affects student outcomes, such as graduation rates, is mixed. Some studies have shown that current students are less likely to graduate when their high school closes. But when the process is executed well and students are given better options, some research has found improved graduation rates for current and future students.

3. Indianapolis Public Schools has been losing high-schoolers for years.

At its peak, IPS had 11 high school buildings serving an average of 2,373 students. This fall, it’s expected to run seven buildings with an average of 763 students each, according to the district closing report.

Families have been leaving Indianapolis Public Schools for suburban, charter and private schools for decades. Over the last 10 years alone, enrollment in IPS high schools has fallen by more than 40 percent, and the decline is even more apparent looking further back. In 1968, the district enrolled 26,107 high school students. Enrollment has drastically declined since then, and the district expects to educate just 5,352 high-schoolers next year.

4. Lots of community members oppose closing high schools.

Whichever high schools district leaders move to close, there is likely to be vigorous community opposition.

Parents, students and alumni have spoken out against closing schools at several contentious district-run meetings in recent weeks and pled with the administration to slow down or come up with an alternative plan. Closing high schools, they said, will leave vacant buildings in neighborhoods, push students to dropout and increase violence, as students from different communities are forced into the same school. Critics even organized their own meeting to oppose closing high schools.

The board will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday at the IPS central office, 120 E. Walnut St. Community members can sign-up online to offer comments.

School closings

Does closing high schools change student outcomes? It depends on where students go next.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

If Indianapolis Public Schools leaders follow through on their plan to close high schools, it will be painful for families, alumni and neighborhoods. But the impact on current and future students is uncertain.

District leaders have attempted to lessen the pain of high school closures with a promise: The new schools will be better for students, with more advanced classes and more opportunities for students to get specialized career training.

In contrast, alumni, parents and teachers have warned that closing high schools will lead to long bus rides, conflict among students and spikes in dropout rates.

But it’s unclear which vision is more likely. The research on whether closing and combining schools leads to better results for students is mixed. Student outcomes depend on how well the closures are executed and whether the newly consolidated schools offer students a better education.

“The details really do matter and context really matters a lot,” said James Kemple of the Research Alliance for New York City Schools.

Kemple led a study that demonstrates the potential benefits of closing high schools. He found that when New York City closed dozens of low-performing high schools, current students who went through the closures were no better or worse off when it came to data points like their graduation rate. More promisingly, future students — who likely would’ve gone to the schools if they had not closed — were better off, with higher attendance and graduation rates.

But the New York example is different from Indianapolis in a number of ways. The schools were all closed for low-performance, rather than low enrollment, and they were phased out, so current students were not displaced. They also were replaced with new, small high schools that were led by dedicated principals chosen through an application process that required a clear mission and plans for managing staff, curriculum and community partnerships, said Kemple.

“They were really trying to create very strong options for kids in the wake of the school closures,” he said. “That was really important.”

But other research shows potential the downside of closing high schools. One of the most recent studies is a 2016 paper from the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans, which looked at the impact of high school closures and charter takeovers in both New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The researchers found that in New Orleans, high schoolers whose schools were closed or taken over had higher graduation rates. In contrast, students in Baton Rouge were less likely to graduate.

The researchers offered a fairly simple theory to explain the divide: The New Orleans students ended up in better schools after their schools closed while the Baton Rouge students actually ended up in lower quality schools. “In short, the key to making closures and takeovers work is to ensure that directly affected students end up in better schools after the intervention,” they wrote.

Another useful study comes out of Milwaukee. Like Indianapolis, families in Wisconsin’s largest city can easily choose charter schools or private schools that accept vouchers, and declining enrollment has pushed the district to close dozens of high schools.

Matthew Larsen, an assistant professor at Lafayette College, looked at the effects of high school closures on current — but not future — students in Milwaukee high schools that were closed based on criteria including enrollment and academic performance. For the students enrolled in the high schools when they closed, the impact was detrimental. Despite enrolling in schools that were on average better than the schools that closed, high schoolers had lower GPAs and lower attendance rates, and ultimately, they are less likely to graduate.

School closures are less problematic for elementary students because they eventually bounce back, Larsen said, “but for high school, it’s sort of more of an issue because they don’t have that long to recover, and some of them might be on the margin of dropping out anyway.”