State poised to pick Denver company to help John Marshall, Broad Ripple high schools

A Denver company with experience helping troubled schools completely redefine how they approach teaching will be proposed Wednesday to be the new “lead partner” for Indianapolis’ John Marshall and Broad Ripple high schools.

Marzano Research Laboratories has a plan to improve the schools and might end up with more power over the teaching staff than the school’s prior lead partner.

The Indiana State Board of Education has played a role in managing both schools since they reached six straight years of F grades for low test scores, but they managed to avoid the stiffer penalty of state takeover that was the fate of four other Indianapolis Public Schools.

In state takeover, schools are severed from district control and handed off to be managed by outside groups. Lead partners are a lesser sanction, under which outside companies act as consultants to help guide turnaround efforts, but the district continues to manage the school.

Lead partners have not always gone well. IPS earlier this year asked the state board to drop lead partners so it could manage the two schools with its own improvement plan. Superintendent Lewis Ferebee later balked at the state’s plan for lead partners at the two schools, which he thought gave the partners too much power. That led The New Teacher Project to back out of the plan, prompting a search for a new partner.

Marzano was founded in 2008 and is based in Denver. Its CEO, Robert Marzano, is an expert in “competency-based” teaching, which focuses less on what is taught at each grade level to advance students to more challenging work as they demonstrate mastery. In Colorado, for example, Marzano played a role in a Colorado school district’s decision to drop traditional K-to-12 grades as part of a wider effort to turnaround its low-scoring schools. The district was praised earlier this year for the dramatic improvement of those schools.

The company’s lead partner proposal doesn’t suggest such radical changes for Marshall and Broad Ripple. The group submitted a three-step plan to the board, detailing how it will identify weaknesses in instruction, make steps toward improvement and carry out continued communication with the schools and the district throughout the course of the partnership. The proposals for each high school total $149,500 so far.

The three steps include:

  • Improving teaching: Marzano offered to create a model for teachers to talk about teaching and how to make it better. Although they will collaborate about how to use the model, Marzano would have the ability to choose “non-negotiable strategies” that the schools must use. Then teachers who learn the model can teach it to their colleagues and give feedback for a final draft.
  • Auditing instruction: Marzano would survey teachers and students about their perception of teaching quality in the school and observe classes to develop individual teacher profiles to show where teachers’ strengths and weaknesses are.
  • Evaluation: The group would track data from the whole process to see the impact of the partnership.

IPS and The New Teacher Project failed to forge a partnership after a debate in September over who would have control and be held accountable for student performance. The group said it didn’t want to work with a school that didn’t share its vision for how to improve test scores.

Ferebee at the time said the district wanted more control over instruction at its schools, as IPS would ultimately be held accountable for improvements. The disagreement and subsequent dissolution of the partnership prompted the board to ask the department of education to go back through the original applicants to find a new partner.