school choice

Tindley dominates the list of top 10 Indianapolis charter schools for passing ISTEP

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
Kayla Davis works on a college admissions form. Stock photos for Chalkbeat stories. Photos made at Tindley Accelerated School, 3960 Meadows Dr, Indianapolis, Indiana. Nov. 22, 2013. (Photo by Alan Petersime)

More new charter schools took ISTEP for the first time in 2015 — and some of them did very well.

Among the ten charter schools in the city that had the highest percentage of students who passed the state exam last year, three were new schools whose students took ISTEP for the first time.

Two of those schools are affiliated with the Tindley Accelerated Schools charter school network — Tindley Renaissance and Tindley Summit academies — giving the network four spots among the top 10 charter schools in the city for ISTEP passing percentage.

In 2015, 26 charter schools in the city took the exam, up from 18 last year. The increase comes as the city has seen a dramatic increase in the total number of charter schools. All charter schools must take the annual exam but some schools initially enroll younger students who won’t take the exam until they enter third grade. The test is given to students in grades 3-8.

Chalkbeat in recent weeks highlighted the top 10 IPS schools that beat odds on the 2015 exam and the 10 IPS schools that ranked lowest for percent passing ISTEP. In the coming weeks, stories on the lowest scoring charter schools and the top and bottom ranked township and small city schools in Indianapolis will follow.

Tindley has had a difficult year outside the classroom. It has struggled financially after enrollment did not keep up with its ambitious expansion plan. Questions also were raised about the network’s spending and borrowing practices. That was followed by the resignation of CEO Marcus Robinson.

But when it came to ISTEP, the four Tindley schools where students took the exam all posted strong results. All four Tindley schools exceeded the 29 percent passing rate, which was the districtwide average Indianapolis Public Schools. Three Indianapolis charter schools also beat the state average. In all, 11 Indianapolis charter schools exceeded the IPS passing rate. But the majority — 15 charter schools — scored below the IPS average.

Paramount School of Excellence took over the top spot on the ranking in 2015 from the prior year’s No. 1, Tindley Collegiate Academy. Paramount, Tindley Collegiate and the Hoosier Academy of Indianapolis, a hybrid school with some courses taught online and some in classrooms, had passing rates above the statewide average of 52.5 percent. By comparison, four of the 59 IPS schools that took ISTEP scored above the state average. Here’s a look at the charter schools that landed in top ten:

Paramount School of Excellence

A community-based charter school on the East side of Indianapolis, Paramount School of Excellence has been rising up the ranking when it comes to passing ISTEP for several years.

Paramount School of Excellence was the top scoring charter school in Indianapolis on 2015.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Paramount School of Excellence was the top scoring charter school in Indianapolis on 2015.

Its 65.6 percent passing rate was well above  IPS and state averages and placed the school among the top 15 scorers in Marion County. That passing rate was better also than most township schools.

The school’s passing rate, like nearly all schools in the state last year, fell from the prior year. But it’s test score drop of 13 percentage points was smaller than the average 19 percentage point drop at schools around the state.

Paramount is known as the school where students grow fruits and vegetables and raise animals, and its scores have been on the rise. Its state grade improved to an A from a D in 2014 over three years.

The school serves about 653 students in grades K to 8. It is also known for its racial balance. About 48 percent of the school’s students are black, 28 percent are white, 14 percent are Hispanic and 10 percent are multiracial.

About 84 percent of the students are from families poor enough to qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. To qualify, a family of four must earn less than $44,863 annually. By comparison, at the average IPS school 71 percent of students are poor enough to qualify for meal assistance.

About 6 percent of students at Paramount are English language learners and 16 percent were in special education in 2014-15, the last year for which data was available. That’s compared to IPS where the 16 percent of students are English-language learners and 18 percent are in special education.

The school is locally managed and not part of any network.

Tindley Collegiate Academy

Tindley Collegiate Academy, on the northeast side of Indianapolis, is the network’s girls-only middle school.

Tindley Collegiate was one of four Tindley charter schools ranked in the city's top 10 for ISTEP scores.
PHOTO: Alan Petersime
Tindley Collegiate was one of four Tindley charter schools ranked in the city’s top 10 for ISTEP scores.

The school, which opened in 2013, serves 316 girls in grades 5-8. About 58 percent of its students passed ISTEP last year, down 27 percentage points from 2014. But its passing rate was still good enough to beat the IPS average and put the school in second place among city charter schools.

About 76 percent of Tindley Collegiate’s students come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

The school is 92 percent black, 5 percent multiracial, 1 percent white and 1 percent Hispanic, making it one of the city’s most racially isolated schools.

By comparison, IPS averages districtwide are 50 percent black, 20 percent white and 23 percent Hispanic.

About 13 percent of the school’s students are in special education classes and none were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

Tindley is a local charter school network based in Indianapolis that has opened all of its schools in and around the Avondale Meadows neighborhood.

Hoosier Academy of Indianapolis

The Indianapolis campus of this school is a hybrid through which students do some coursework online and some at the school. It serves about 240 students in grades K-8.

Hoosier Academy Indianapolis is a hybrid school at which some student work is done online and some at the school.
Hoosier Academy Indianapolis is a hybrid school at which some student work is done online and some at the school.

With nearly 58 percent of students passing ISTEP in 2015, the school beat the state average and appeared for the first time among the top 10 charter schools. Its passing rate fell 10 percentage points from the prior year, a smaller drop than most schools in the state.

Hoosier Academy Indianapolis serves a wealthier and less diverse student body than most charter schools in the city. Only about 20 percent of its students are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. About 72 percent of students are white, 22 percent are black and 2 percent are Hispanic.

About 19 percent of students are in special education and less than 1 percent are learning English as a new language.

The school has an online-only statewide sister school, Hoosier Academies Virtual School. Both are affiliated with K12, a national for-profit company that supports a nationwide network of online charter schools.

Irvington Community School

Located on the East side, Irvington Community School held steady on a tougher ISTEP.

Irvington Community School is one of the city's oldest charter schools.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Irvington Community School is one of the city’s oldest charter schools.

For several years, the school has scored just above or just below the state’s average passing rate for ISTEP. That was true again in 2015. With 51.7 percent of students passing, Irvington was just below the state average.

Irvington’s passing rate fell 19 percentage points from 2014, exactly the average drop for the typical Indiana school.

The large school serves 1,043 students in grades K to 12. It is less diverse than most Indianapolis charter schools. About 70 percent of students are white, 11 percent are black and 9 percent are Hispanic. About 62 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

Less than 2 percent of students are English-language learners and about 14 percent were in special education in 2014-15, the last year for which data was available.

The schools is locally managed and not part of any network.

Tindley Renaissance Academy

The Tindley network opened this elementary school in 2013. In its first year reporting ISTEP scores, Tindley Renaissance nearly reached the state average passing rate at 51 percent.

Tindley Renaissance Academy serves elementary school students.
PHOTO: Alan Petersime
Tindley Renaissance Academy serves elementary school students.

The school was the Tindley network’s first foray into elementary school grades  after starting with middle and high schools.

Tindley network schools have proven unusually adept at posting high passing rates quickly on ISTEP. Even most high-scoring charter schools have seen their scores rise more slowly over several years.

The school serves about 411 students on the city’s Northeast side. About 75 percent of students are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The school is 94 percent black, 2 percent Hispanic and less than 1 percent white.

About 10 percent of students were in special education and Tindley Renaissance had no English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

Tindley Preparatory Academy

The Tindley network’s first expansion was Tindley Preparatory Academy, an all-boys middle school that opened in 2012.

The Tindley Accelerated Schools network has two elementary schools, two middle schools and a high school.
PHOTO: Alan Petersime
The Tindley Accelerated Schools network has two elementary schools, two middle schools and a high school.

It posted a top 10 passing rate again among charter schools in 2015.

About 49 percent of students passed the exam, down 26 percentage points from the prior year. That was a bigger drop than the average Indiana school but not enough to knock Tindley Prep from the top 10.

The school, located in Northeast Indianapolis, has an enrollment of 227 students in grades 5-8, and about 76 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

The school is about 91 percent black, 5 percent multiracial, 1 percent white and 1 percent Hispanic.

About 19 percent of students were in special education and less than 1 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data was available.

Christel House Academy South

The south campus of Christel House was the network’s first school and is one of the oldest charter schools in the state. It has generally ranked high for percent of students passing ISTEP.

Christel House Academy South is one of the city's oldest charter schools.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Christel House Academy South is one of the city’s oldest charter schools.

In 2015, about 45.5 percent of students passed the test, down about 26 percentage points from the prior year. That was a bigger drop than the average Indiana school saw on the tougher ISTEP exam.

The school is part of a worldwide network of schools run by Indianapolis philanthropist Christel DeHaan. It has a sister school on the city’s West side and is also connected to high schools that work with at-risk students who have dropped out of other schools.

Christel House South appears to have moved passed controversies from recent years when it argued lower test scores and state grades it received were driven by errors in ISTEP scoring and unfair treatment that its leaders said affected the school and others with unusual grade configurations.

About 94 percent of students who attend the school are from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The school is very diverse, with about 46 percent of students who are Hispanic, 30 percent who are white and 16 percent who are black.

About 12 percent of students were in special education and 25 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data was available.

Avondale Meadows Academy

A consistently high-scoring school on ISTEP, Avondale Meadows Academy saw about 44 percent of students pass ISTEP in 2015.

Avondale Meadows is one of the city's highest scoring charter schools.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Avondale Meadows is one of the city’s highest scoring charter schools.

Formerly known as the Challenge Foundation Academy, the school’s passing rate dropped by 28 percentage points, a bigger drop than the average Indiana school on the new, harder ISTEP exam.

The school serves 469 students in grades K to 5. It is located close to several Tindley Accelerated Schools in the Northeast Indianapolis neighborhood known as Avondale Meadows. It is part of a fledgling local charter school network, with a sister school opening in 2014 north of downtown known as Visions Academy, but is no longer affiliated with the Challenge Foundation.

About 70 percent of students qualify for free or reduced price lunch. The school is about 95 percent black, 3 percent multiracial and 2 percent white.

About 14 percent of students were in special education in 2014-15, the last year for which data were available.

Tindley Summit Academy

Another recently opened school that was part of the rapid expansion of the Tindley Accelerated Schools network, Tindley Summit Academy opened in 2014 and serves students in grades K to 4.

065_Chalkbeat_Selects
Tindley Summit is one of two charter schools in the Tindley network that reported scores for the first time in 2015 and ranked in the city’s top 10.

About 44 percent of students passed ISTEP in 2015, which was the first year the school reported scores.

The school is part of cluster of high-scoring Tindley schools located on the city’s Northeast side.

Tindley Summit serves 292 students.

About 78 percent of students come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

The school is 90 percent black, 5 percent Hispanic and 1 percent white.

About 10 percent of students were in special education and 4 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data was available.

Phalen Leadership Academy

Phalen Leadership is the flagship school for an emerging charter school network based in Indianapolis run by Earl Martin Phalen. In its first year reporting ISTEP scores in 2015, the school saw about 39 percent of students pass ISTEP and made the city’s top 10 list for charter school test performance.

Phalen Leadership Academy was founded by Earl Martin Phalen, the inventor of the SummerAdvantage program.
PHOTO: Hayleigh Colombo
Phalen Leadership Academy was founded by Earl Martin Phalen, the inventor of the SummerAdvantage program.

Phalen, a one-time foster child and former Harvard Law School classmate of President Obama, came to Indiana in 2009 after being selected as a Mind Trust “education entrepreneur fellow.”

From that fellowship, Phalen invented Summer Advantage, a program that aims to help low income children advance, rather than backslide, during summer break. Building on the success of that program, he launched the Phalen Leadership Academy and the charter network now also operates IPS School 103 under a contract with the district.

The school is located on the North side of downtown and serves 325 students in grades K to 4. About 77 percent of students are from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced price lunch.

The school is 91 percent black, 4 percent white and 1 percent Hispanic. About 5 percent of students were in special education and less than 1 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

Other charter schools exceeding the IPS district average:

Southeast Neighborhood School of Excellence. SENSE fell out of the top 10, but the school’s 31 percent passing rate was higher than the IPS average. It was the only other Indianapolis charter school with a passing rate above the district’s rate. It’s passing rate fell by 24 percentage points from the prior year.

Preschool math

Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker plows $100 million more into early ed — but no universal preschool this year

In the past decade, as other states have ramped up their spending on early education, budget-strapped Illinois has fallen further behind.

In his first budget proposal as governor on Wednesday, J.B. Pritzker, a philanthropist who has contributed millions to early childhood causes at home and nationally, laid out a plan to reverse that Illinois trend with a historic $100 million bump for preschool and other early learning programs.

“I have been advocating for large investments in early childhood education for decades, long before I became governor,” he said, laying out a $594 million early education spending plan that is part of an overall $77 billion package. “Investing in early childhood is the single most important education policy decision government can make.”

Later in the address, Pritzker detailed a smaller increase, but one that some advocates said was a welcome shift in policy: He described first steps toward repairing a child care assistance program that was drained of families and providers during the administration of his predecessor, Gov. Bruce Rauner. The new governor plans to spend $30 million more to rebuild the program. He also will increase income eligibility so an estimated 10,000 more families can participate.

“These priorities turn us in a different direction,” said Maria Whelan, CEO of Illinois Action for Children, which administers the child care assistance program in Cook County. Compared with the state’s previous approach, “I feel like I just woke up from a bad dream.”

Pritzker’s otherwise “austere” budget address, as he described it in his speech, came 12 days after his office revealed that the state’s budget deficit was 14 percent higher than expected — some $3.2 billion.

The state’s early childhood budget funds a preschool-for-all program that serves more than 72,000 3- and 4-year-olds statewide in a mix of partial- and full-day programs. Chicago has been using its share of state dollars to help underwrite its four-year universal pre-K rollout, which has gotten off to a bumpy start in its first year.  

The state early childhood grant also supports prenatal programs and infant and toddler care for low-income families.

Pritzker pledged on the campaign trail to pave a pathway toward universal pre-K for the state’s 3- and 4-year-olds, and this budget falls short of the estimated $2.4 billion it would cost, at least according to a moonshot proposal made in January by the lame duck state board of education. The state’s school Superintendent Tony Smith stepped down at the end of January, and Pritzker has yet to name a successor.

But policymakers and advocates on Wednesday said the considerable $100 million increase is a step in the right direction for a state that has been spending less per student than many of its neighbors. According to the National Institute for Early Education Research, Illinois spent $4,226 per young learner in 2016-2017 compared with a national average that topped $5,000. Seven states spent $7,000 or more.   

“This is a big amount in one year, but also it is what we think is needed to move programs forward, and we’re excited to see it,” said Ireta Gasner, vice president of policy at the Ounce of Prevention, an early-education advocacy group

One item Gasner said she hoped to hear, but didn’t, was increased spending on home visiting programs for families with new babies. Spending on such programs next year will remain flat under Pritzker’s proposal. Home visiting has been suggested as one antidote to the state’s troublingly high maternal mortality rates. An October report from the state’s public health department found that 72 percent of pregnancy-related deaths in Illinois were preventable.

“Overall, we still have a long way to go to serve our youngest families and youngest children,” she said.  

In addition to the $100 million, Pritzker’s office reportedly also will add $7 million to early intervention services for young learners with disabilities and set aside $107 million to help buffer the impact of his new minimum wage increase on daycare center owners and other child care providers who operate on thin margins.

On Tuesday, Pritzker signed into a law a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour.

Illinois faces a critical staffing shortage of preschool providers, and several operators have warned that they face mounting pressures from staff turnover, increased regulations, and stagnant reimbursement rates.

Future of Schools

Chicago mayoral hopeful Gery Chico has regrets — and big plans for schools if elected

PHOTO: Adeshina Emmanuel
Mayoral candidate Gery Chico, former school board president.

Former school board president Gery Chico has said that if elected mayor, he would oversee the largest ever expansion of technical and vocational education at Chicago Public Schools.

That’s a very different approach than the one he presided over during his tenure amid a rush to expand rigorous academic programs like the International Baccalaureate and selective enrollment schools that left a lot of families on the outside looking in, especially in black and Latino communities.

Related: Who’s best for Chicago schools? A Chalkbeat voter guide to the 2019 mayor’s race

“We’re losing people from the city over this issue today,” said Chico, board president from 1995 to 2001. “If an African-American parent doesn’t feel that their child who didn’t get into [selective enrollment high school] Whitney Young is going to be served well by the alternatives — they’re out of here. They leave. They may go to the south suburbs or if the change they seek is more dramatic, they may go to Dallas or Atlanta.”

Chico, who also pledges to open eight new selective enrollment high schools if elected, said he wishes he had anticipated how popular selective enrollment and IB programs were going to be, so that the district could keep up with demand. Just as when Chico ran the school board two decades ago, top academic schools and programs still are disproportionately clustered in wealthier and white neighborhoods, and fewer black and Latino students have access to those schools and programs.

Related: 5 tough questions a new report puts front-and-center for Chicago’s next mayor

Despite some regret and criticism of his tenure at the district from detractors like the Chicago Teacher’s Union, Chico counts balanced budgets, test score gains and scores of opened schools among his accomplishments running the district alongside then-schools chief Paul Vallas, another mayoral contender. After leaving the Chicago Board of Education, Chico went on to serve as board president for the City Colleges of Chicago, and later at the Illinois State Board of Education, experience he says provides him a rare vantage point to steer Chicago schools toward improvements.  

If he emerges from the crowded field of candidates in one of the most competitive mayoral elections in recent memory, he said he’d use his power as mayor to open several new trade schools every year for each year of his first term with the goal of spurring Chicago’s “largest ever” expansion of vocational and technical education. His plan is to repurpose closed schools or build new ones to house the specialized career-focused schools.

Related: In one Chicago neighborhood, three high schools offer dramatically different opportunities

Chico wouldn’t say how much it would cost.

He did say he would pay for the plan with budget savings, public-private partnerships with businesses in the trade industry, and surplus economic development dollars from the city’s tax increment finance program. Like other candidates, he’s said he would press downstate lawmakers in the state capitol to fully fund Chicago schools.

“I’m not going to do 20 in one year,” he said. We’re going to phase it in and ramp it up, whether we’re repurposing buildings, or building new buildings, largely with the money of the trade unions. It doesn’t have to break the bank.”

Related: Chicago’s mayoral candidates differ on how they’d improve outcomes for students of color

But Chico’s vocational plan doesn’t mean he’s abandoning the proliferation of rigorous curricula. He said he would expand IB programs from 50 schools to 150.

“This is not one size fits all. Some people want just neighborhood high schools, some people want IB in that high school, some communities like the South and West Sides are clamoring for a selective-enrollment school,” he said. “You have to follow the communities, listen, and then we’ll figure out the best direction based on that dialogue.”

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