Future of Schools

Mayoral candidate Joe Hogsett on education in his own words

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Democrat Joe Hogsett announced a run for mayor last month at the Landmark for Peace monument in King Park.

Chalkbeat recently interviewed Democratic mayoral candidate Joe Hogsett about his views on education in the city. Read more about the interview here and reaction here.

Hogsett touched on a wide range of issues in his first major interview about education. Here is more of what he had to say on some key issues:

On the role of the mayor in education

Joe Hogsett
Joe Hogsett

“The authority of the mayor, but for mayoral sponsored charter schools, over the day-to-day delivery of public education is indirect. I respect that.”

“I would not be a complainer, not a second guesser, not an armchair quarterback, but be available to visit classrooms and attend choir concerts, band contests, sporting events … to convene and listen to principals and administrators about how things are going. I’d want to promote IPS and other public school corporations around the community, so the good things they are doing are acknowledged. And that their failures, to the extent that those unfortunately occur, are recognized and dealt with.”

On the importance of IPS

“IPS has its fair share of problems. Absolutely. Has it been of some duration? I don’t think anyone would disagree with that. The same types of challenges IPS has faced, perhaps for a longer period of time, are manifesting themselves in other school corporations as well.”

“For any leader to focus exclusively on IPS and not spend as much time with other school corporations, paying as much attention to them as one does IPS, you are giving short shrift to what may be a challenge for the townships as well.”

On the current state of IPS

“We have three newly elected school board members to go along with those who remain. We have a reasonably new, and very well respected, leader in Dr. (Lewis) Ferebee, who I have met with now on several occasions.”

On money in IPS race

“The amount of money involved in elections bothers me across the board. This is not a new problem. Maybe we should be troubled that it’s now moved to the level of school board races. But I think that the involvement of large sums of money, large contributors at any level, is always a chronic challenge.”

“You have to balance that against the constitutional principles of free speech and the series of cases decided by the U.S. Supreme Court that limits Congress and other legislative bodies from bringing what I would consider to be a little more sanity to the process.”

“It is troubling but I wish I had the answer. I don’t. As long as we have the First Amendment people have the right to contribute in disclosable ways. Let the people know the facts, as Lincoln used to say, and the people will be saved.”

On IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee

“I have already offered to Dr. Ferebee to help him personally. All he needs to do is ask. If I’m elected mayor, he and I will engage in a very close working relationship and maybe even a partnership in furtherance of the betterment of IPS.”

“My sense is Dr. Ferebee is available and open-minded. He is progressive. I have found him to be very thoughtful. He is courageous. He hasn’t shied away from controversy, probably much to his chagrin from time to time. These are tough decisions, but you have to have people who are willing to make tough decisions.”

“I do intend to be the kind of mayor who is fully engaged with the superintendent, with principals, with teachers and hopefully with parents and students and other stakeholders so that at least I have a good sense of, and appreciation for, the unique challenges neighborhoods or communities face.”

On charter school accountability

“If a mayoral sponsored charter school is failing, it needs to be held accountable. Nobody wants anyone to fail. They need to improve. They need to get better. If they’re given opportunity to be forewarned, and an opportunity to change, and no progress being made in terms of outcomes, then they need to be closed.”

On city support for preschool tuition for poor families

“I am supportive of the mayor’s preschool proposal. I did take issues with his property tax increase. I am glad the compromise reached funds that program adequately without a tax increase on citizens of Marion County. But I don’t think it can be sustained. That’s why I encouraged our governor and legislature to seriously consider expansion of their pilot program and ultimately put the state in a position so pre-K can be funded from state resources as soon as is reasonably possible.”


Frustrations over principal turnover flare up at IPS School 43

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
School 43

It began with a tame slideshow presentation about hiring a new principal at School 43. But the Wednesday night meeting soon spiraled into a venting session — as parents and teachers pleaded with Indianapolis Public Schools to send in more staff.

Bakari Posey, the principal of School 43, departed for another job last week in the latest upheaval at the school, which is also known as James Whitcomb Riley. The assistant principal, Endia Ellison, has taken over in an interim capacity, as the district searches for a new leader for the school, which has faced significant turnover in recent years.

“This school needs help,” said Natasha Milam, who has three children at School 43, which serves about 450 students in prekindergarten to eighth-grade. “We need you all to listen. And we need you all to hear us.”

Milam, who volunteers at the school, said that because the building does not have enough staff to handle behavior problems, students are suspended far too often — meaning students are at home doing chores or getting into trouble, instead of in class learning.

Many in the neighborhood had hoped Posey, who is from the community, would be able to turn the school around after the previous two school leaders left their posts just months into the job. But under Posey’s leadership, the school continued to struggle on state tests, with just 7 percent of students passing both the math and English exams last year.

And after two-and-a-half years on the job, Posey left and began working this week as assistant principal at Fall Creek Valley Middle School in Lawrence Township. In an email Thursday, Posey said that he left because he thought the position in Lawrence would help him grow professionally and it was closer to his home.

Posey also disputed the picture of School 43 as a campus in crisis. He said this school year, there hasn’t been “turmoil in the school in regards to student behavior,” suspensions were down, and the campus has been “very calm.” (Suspension numbers could not immediately be verified.) He also said that Indianapolis Public Schools provided “great support” to school staff.

Nonetheless, parents and teachers’ at the meeting Wednesday said the school has serious problems.

Ryesha Jackson, a 4th-grade teacher who has been at the school a little over a year, said there are not enough staff to help with student discipline problems. That makes it hard for educators to teach, she said.

“We have fights almost every day,” Jackson said. “I guess my question is, ‘What are we doing right now to support teachers?’”

School 43 is a neighborhood school, on the north side of the district. More than 75 percent of students there are black, and almost 70 percent are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price meals — about the district average.

Indianapolis Public Schools interim Superintendent Aleesia Johnson said district and school leaders would work together to develop a plan to address the urgent problems at School 43.

“But what I can’t give you right now is the plan for that help,” she said. “That takes time and coordination with the school staff.”

The district is gathering input about what school community members are looking for in a principal before posting a listing, officials said. Finalists will be interviewed by committees of parents, community members, and school and district staff. The goal is to name a new principal by April.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting was a small contingent from the IPS Community Coalition, a group that is often critical of the Indianapolis Public Schools administration, particularly the district’s partnerships with charter schools.

Michele Lorbieski, a resident from the north side who ran unsuccessfully for the Indianapolis Public Board with the support of the coalition last year, said the district cannot just rely on the next principal to fix the school.

“What I’d hoped to hear tonight was what the school district was doing to put things in place to stop this revolving door of principals,” she said.

District officials did not directly address why turnover has been so high among principals at School 43. But Brynn Kardash, a district official who recently began working with the school, said that the central office is doing more to support it this year.

School 43 was added this year to the transformation zone — an effort to help troubled schools that includes dedicated support and regular visits from a team at the central office, said Kardash, the district’s executive director of schools for the zone. Educators in the zone get additional training, extra planning time, and help analyzing student data, she said.

“The goal is to really support Ms. Ellison in work that she’s doing,” Kardash said, “which then leads to, hopefully, teachers feeling that support in the classroom.”

technical difficulties

This personalized learning program was supposed to boost math scores. It didn’t, new study finds

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
A student at I.S. 228 in Brooklyn does online work through Teach to One, a program that grew out of the iZone.

A program that Bill Gates once called “the future of math” didn’t improve state test scores at schools that adopted it, according to a new study.

The research examines Teach to One, a “personalized learning” program used in schools across 11 states and which has drawn support from a number of major funders, including the Gates Foundation, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings. (Gates and CZI are also funders of Chalkbeat.)

At five schools in Elizabeth, New Jersey, students who used Teach to One didn’t improve any faster than similar students who didn’t use the program, even after three years. The results underscore the limited evidence for claims that such technology programs can dramatically improve student learning, even as they have become magnets for philanthropic dollars.

“The original aspirations, that Teach to One programs were going to have huge positive effects on math scores — we can rule that out with these studies,” said Jonah Rockoff, a Columbia professor who studied an earlier iteration of the program.

Teach to One says its approach is designed to help students steadily learn math skills, regardless of how unprepared or advanced they are. Students spend time on a computer as well as with a teacher and working in small groups. Students receive individualized schedules each day based on their progress, and a computer program adapts the curriculum to students’ strengths and weaknesses in the form of a “playlist.”

New Classrooms, the organization behind Teach To One, suggests that the Elizabeth results aren’t the full story.

It points to a separate analysis released this week that looks at a broader group of schools — 14, from several districts — that used the program. That study shows Teach to One students making above-average gains on a test known as the MAP, which is taken on a computer with questions changing as students answer correctly or incorrectly.

New Classrooms co-founder Joel Rose suggested in a statement that those computer-adaptive tests capture something that state tests can miss: students’ progress.

“What seems to be emerging is a real tension in math between approaches focused on long-term academic growth and state accountability systems,” he said.

Rockoff said there might be something to New Classroom’s argument that the study using adaptive test is better able to showcase students’ gains. “If [students] are at a grade four level but they’re in grade six, teaching them grade four material is going to hurt them on the state test,” he said.

But the author of the second study, Jesse Margolis, and a number of other researchers who spoke to Chalkbeat note that it cannot show whether Teach to One caused any of the students’ gains, though — a major limitation.

“While this study cannot establish causality, it is encouraging,” Margolis wrote. (The New Jersey study is better able to establish cause and effect, but it also has limitations and does not rely on random assignment.)

The New Jersey study isn’t the first to show that Teach to One didn’t improve test scores: so did Rockoff’s 2015 report on three New York City middle schools that looked at both state and MAP tests.

One possible explanation is that Teach to One is helpful to students in some places but not others. Margolis said his study examined the same five Elizabeth schools as the Columbia study and also found minimal gains there, but that schools elsewhere seemed to see larger improvements.

Researcher John Pane of RAND, a leader in studying personalized learning, says the results are important to understanding a field with limited research to date.

“Because we have so little evidence on personalized learning,” he said, “every data point can be helpful for us to start triangulating and piecing together what works and what doesn’t work.”