Why DeVos’ deputy is ‘very, very happy’ with this innovative Indianapolis school

Indianapolis is once again getting attention from Washington, D.C., as a model for education.

An official in Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ administration stopped by Purdue Polytechnic High School Wednesday as part of the U.S. Department of Education’s “Rethink School” tour, which aims to highlight innovative models. Now in its second year, the high school is testing a radically different approach to education that allows students to learn academic material while working on real-world problems.

Purdue Polytechnic is the latest Indianapolis school to receive praise from DeVos’s administration. A staunch advocate for school choice, DeVos has repeatedly cited schools in Indianapolis, with its large charter sector and private school voucher program, as national models.

More recently, the state’s largest district has also embraced choice by creating innovation schools, which are run independently but under the district umbrella. DeVos has praised these new innovation schools publicly and, in February, she made a covert visit to one of the schools.

During the visit Wednesday to Purdue Polytechnic, which is also an innovation school, assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education Frank Brogan said that officials are visiting innovative campuses with the aim of cataloging what they learn to help other schools.

“Nobody should have to grapple their way to innovation,” Brogan said. “There’s already great things going on out there that can provide a platform of opportunity that other people can then choose from to make their own school innovative.”

“I’m very, very happy with what I see going on here at Purdue Polytechnic,” he added.

The charter school has drawn attention locally and nationally in part because it was founded by Purdue University, which is led by former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels. The school is part of a national trend supported by well-funded groups, such as XQ Super School, which are pushing the theory that high schools must be reimagined for the modern era.

During the school’s first year, Chalkbeat visited to see how students and staff were adjusting to a new kind of school.

Reagan Hubbard enrolled at the Purdue Polytechnic because her mom thought it would be a fit with her interest in engineering. Now, her parents drive her 45 minutes from Noblesville, and they plan on enrolling her sister next year. “There are some things that are challenging, but it’s stuff that I like, like engineering,” Hubbard said. Since students have more freedom than at a traditional school, it’s especially important to be disciplined and avoid falling behind on your work, she said. “It’s very different.”

Read more: Purdue is trying to upend the traditional high school model. Here’s what it looks like

Purdue is one of two schools in Indiana Brogan is visiting as part of the tour. The other is a Shelbyville school that describes itself as the “safest school in America” because of its active shooter defense system.