IPS deal with consultant for helping high schools collapses

A plan for The New Teacher Project to serve as “lead partner” for Indianapolis Public Schools imploded today after an Indiana State Board of Education debate over whether the district or a consultant would be in charge of instruction at two schools.

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said IPS had struck a deal last week with the company for how it would help raise test scores at Broad Ripple and John Marshall high schools, but it collapsed when Robert Guffin, the state board’s executive director who works with Gov. Mike Pence’s Center for Education and Career Innovation, objected.

Lead partners were originally assigned in 2011 as an alternative to state takeover. While four other IPS schools were severed from district control and handed off to be run by charter school organizations, the state board determined Marshall, Broad Ripple and George Washington high schools all could be improved with outside support from a consulting company.

The New Teacher Project was one of those consultants. When IPS asked to serve as its own lead partner for the three schools, the state board agreed only for George Washington, choosing to keep The New Teacher Project at the other two schools.

But Guffin, who was an IPS principal last year, told IPS and the company after they struck a deal that a majority of the state board wanted The New Teacher Project to have more direct control over instruction. Still, IPS insisted that it should lead instruction since state accountability ultimately falls on the district, not the consultant.

“We had a plan everyone agreed to last Wednesday,” said Ferebee, who traveled to Fort Wayne for the state board meeting. “Now we suddenly don’t have an agreement.”

State board members were irked, saying they approved The New Teacher Project but felt IPS was essentially exercising a veto of that decision by refusing to allow the group to lead instruction.

A representative from The New Teacher Project, a New York-based company started by former Washington, D.C., school chancellor Michelle Rhee, said the company did not want to partner if IPS did not share its vision for helping the schools, fearing the divide would doom efforts to help improve test scores.

The state board spent more than an hour trying to convince the district and the company to work together.

“I was still hoping for a shotgun marriage,” state board member Gordon Hendry said at the end of a long discussion. “Can we still get to yes?”

In short, the answer from the company and the district was no.

A frustrated board member David Freitas said he was disappointed that extra leeway he felt IPS was given didn’t lead to a workable agreement.

“We tried to give flexibility and it didn’t work,” Freitas said. “Let’s move forward and just appoint a (different) lead partner.”

After a brief debate about whether CECI or the Indiana Department of Education should recommend a new lead partner, the board asked the department to offer up another choice from among the seven other groups that had previously bid for the work.