Future of Schools

Charter schools see explosive growth in Indiana, doubling in five years

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
The number of charter schools in Indiana will reach 100 this fall.

An unprecedented expansion of charter schools over the past five years — centered heavily in Indianapolis — is expected to push the number of privately managed public schools in Indiana to 100 this fall for the first time.

Advocates are celebrating the breadth of new options for families to choose from, including more good schools in areas where children score poorly on state tests. But in Indianapolis, the steep growth has begun to raise questions about whether there are enough students to fill all the new seats.

“It is a milestone I would celebrate but only in the context of quality,” said Mary Ann Sullivan, the president of the Indianapolis Public School Board and a former state legislator. “I don’t draw lines between quality district schools and quality charter schools. I think that’s the relevant point. I want Indiana to have more quality schools.”

Charter growth in Indianapolis has accelerated enrollment losses by Indianapolis Public Schools — which is down more than 10,000 students in the last decade to about 29,500. That’s a drop of about 25 percent.

But in the last few years, new charter schools have also struggled to meet their enrollment goals, notably Tindley schools and Carpe Diem, so local schools advocates are watching to make sure that demand for new schools keeps pace with supply.

With 100 charter schools, Indiana will have more than twice as many as it did five years ago, when lawmakers pushed for more schools by voting to give private universities and a new Indiana Charter School Board the right to approve new charter schools.

Previously, Ball State University or the Indianapolis mayor’s office were the only major organizations that could sponsor a new charter school. They oversaw all of the state’s charter schools with the exception of a handful that were sponsored by local school districts.

Sullivan helped write the 2011 law to create the state charter board but opposed the portion that expanded sponsoring to private universities. She argued that more charter schools has had a good impact overall.

“It’s good to not have a monopoly and have other options within the public sector,” Sullivan said. “I believe charter schools have nudged and prodded the district into making change that have benefited families.”

There were 49 publicly funded but privately managed charter schools in Indiana when the 2011 law first passed. Now, there are 94 charter schools already open, six more planning to open for the first time this fall and another ten in the pipeline to open in 2017.

Neighboring states, especially Michigan and Ohio, were earlier to legalizing charter schools and more sponsors in those states led to far more schools approved. Michigan, which legalized charter school in 1993, has about 300. Ohio passed its charter law in 1997 and has 400 charter schools. Both states are criticized for having too many poor quality  schools.

Indiana’s law permitting the free, publicly funded but privately run schools to operate independently from local school districts didn’t pass until 2002 and gatekeepers in Indiana have been more assertive about holding high standards.

Ball State and the mayor’s office both turned away about 75 percent of applicants to open schools, meaning Indiana’s charter growth was slower. That has meant fewer charter school failures than other states.

Under former Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, a Republican, the city more than doubled its portfolio of charter schools to 38 this year, up from 18 when he took office eight years ago, but the last 12 months have not seen the same demand for new schools.

Since Democrat Joe Hogsett took office in January, replacing Ballard, the city has received no applications for new charter schools  — a rare occurrence.

Hogsett’s education director, Ahmed Young, said Hogsett intends to continue sponsoring charter schools. He blamed the ebb in applicants on uncertainty with the mayoral transition. He expects it to pick back up in 2016-17.

“I think it’s an aberration,” he said. “We expect a robust application cycle this fall. We are not focused specifically on the number of charters. We are more focused on our current schools and that they are performing well. We can’t just grow for the sake of growth. We have to be strategic about how the charter sector grows.”

Ball State also saw fewer charter school applicants during the last school year. The university had only two schools apply and its charter school team turned both of them down. University officials speculated that less federal start up aid might be a factor.

Karega Rausch, who chaired the Indiana Charter Board until last month, said a drop in applications has been happening nationally, but charter advocates are not sure why. So it makes sense that some sponsors may experience dips in the number of applications. Rausch works for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, a trade group for charter schools based in Chicago.

The average number of applications received by sponsors nationally dropped the last four years, from more than 18 in 2011-12 to less than 10 in 2014-15, he said. The number of new charter schools that opened nationwide in 2015-16 was 404, down from 640 in 2013-14.

“Indiana is not immune to the trend nationally,” Rausch said. “A lot of people are trying to understand why that is.”

But at least for the next two years, Indianapolis will still see steady charter growth.

Five of the nine schools the state charter board approved to open in the next two years are in Indianapolis.

And the state charter board has become a major sponsor of new Indianapolis charter schools. The bulk of charter schools it has approved — 10 of the 14 that will be operating this fall — are in the city.

Whether demand for charter schools is dropping remains to be seen, Sullivan said.

“[Parents] are looking at IPS again who had previously not been looking at IPS,” she said. “But also the expansion of vouchers has had an impact on charters in the same way it’s had an impact on districts. If you are a parent inclined to look for choices, now you have another choice.”

Neither state Superintendent Glenda Ritz’s Indiana Department of Education office nor her re-election campaign responded to several requests for comment about charter school growth. In the past, Ritz has raised concerns about the growth of school choice programs in Indiana.

To Sullivan, the charter school champion turned school board president, charter school growth will always be limited by demand and the ability of good programs to expand.

IPS, for example, has a long waiting list for its Center for Inquiry magnet schools, but is adding new CFI schools slowly to make sure there are enough principals and teachers with CFI experience to ensure new schools maintain a high level of quality.

In a similar way, she said, charter school sponsors need to pay attention so they can shift to offer more of the kinds of schools parents want — and fewer of those that they don’t.

“That’s kind of what’s supposed to happen,” she said. “When there is less demand then you know that’s enough. Parents are telling you they are not looking for that.”

 NEW CHARTER SCHOOLS IN INDIANA

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett’s office (38 schools sponsored)

New schools for 2016-17:

Global Prep Academy in Indianapolis

Kindezi Academy in Indianapolis

New schools for 2017-18:

Avondale Meadows Middle School in Indianapolis

A second Herron High School in Indianapolis

Purdue Polytechnic High School in Indianapolis

Westside Community Middle School in Indianapolis

Ball State University (28 schools sponsored)

No new schools planned

Indiana State Charter School Board (14 schools sponsored)

New schools for 2016-17:

Heritage Institute for Arts and Technology in Merrillville

Steel City Academy in Gary

Excel Center in Shelbyville

ACE Preparatory Academy Charter School  in Indianapolis

New schools for 2017-18:

Indiana Charter Network Academy (run by Charter Schools USA) in Clarksville or Indianapolis*

Circle City Preparatory Charter Academy in Indianapolis

Civic Collegiate Public Charter School in Indianapolis

The Mind Program High School in Indianapolis

Focus Academy in East Chicago

*A second ICN school can open in the other city the following year if the first one meets the state charter board’s expectations.

Trine University (5 schools sponsored)

No new schools planned

Grace College (3 schools sponsored)

No new schools planned

Calumet College of St. Joseph (2 schools sponsored)

No new schools planned

Evansville Vanderburgh School District (2 schools sponsored)

No new schools planned

Daleville School District (1 school sponsored)

No new schools planned

Lafayette Public School District (1 school sponsored)

No new schools planned

Future of Schools

Chicago Schools sets community meetings on controversial school inventory report

Chicago Public Schools is hosting a dozen workshops for community members focused on a controversial report about local schools that offers an unprecedented window into the assets — and problems — in certain neighborhoods.

The district published report, called the Annual Regional Analysis, in September. It shows that, in many areas of the city, students are skipping out on nearby options, with less than half of district students attending their designated neighborhood schools.

The school district and Kids First, the school-choice group that helped compile the report, maintain that the analysis is meant to help guide investments and empower communities to engage in conversations about their needs.

The report divides the school district into 16 “planning regions” showing where schools are, what programs they offer, how they are performing, and how people choose among the options available.

The meetings will start with a presentation on the report. They will include small-group discussions to brainstorm how Chicago Schools can invest in and strengthen schools. The first workshop is scheduled for Wednesday at Collins Academy High School.

While the school district has touted the detailed report as a resource to aid planning and community engagement, several groups have criticized the document and questioned the district’s intent.  The document has sparked fears among supporters of neighborhood schools that the district might use it to propose more school closings, turnarounds, and charter schools.

The parents group Raise Your Hand, the neighborhood schools’ advocacy group Generation All, and the community organizing group Blocks Together penned a letter recently scrutinizing the report’s reliance on school ratings, which are based largely on attendance and test scores.

“Research has shown that test scores and attendance tell us more about the socioeconomic status of the students’ communities rather than the teaching and learning inside the school itself,” they wrote. Chalkbeat Chicago first reported about the analysis in August after obtaining a copy of it. Yet, the document has sparked fears among supporters of neighborhood schools that it could be used to propose more school closings, turnarounds, and charter schools.

Here’s a list of the 12 community workshops, all of which all begin at 6 p.m.:

West Side Region: Oct. 17, Collins Academy High School

Greater Lincoln Park Region: Oct. 18, Lincoln Park High School

Greater Calumet Region: Oct. 22, Corliss High School

South Side Region: Nov. 7, Lindblom High School

Greater Stony Island Region: Nov. 8, Chicago Vocational Career Academy

Far Southwest Region: Nov. 13, Morgan Park High School

Far Northwest Side Region: Nov. 14, Steinmetz High School

Greater Milwaukee Region: Nov. 15, Wells High School

Greater Stockyards Region: Nov. 19, Kelly High School

Pilsen/Little Village Region: Nov. 26, Benito Juarez Community Academy

Greater Midway Region: Dec. 6, Curie Metropolitan High School

North Lakefront Region : Dec. 11, Roger C Sullivan High School

testing questions

‘The needle hasn’t moved’: Regents sound off on racial gaps in 2018 test scores

PHOTO: Getty Images/Kali9

New York State’s top education policymakers raised concerns Monday about whether the state is doing enough to address persistent racial gaps on state exams.

The discussion was the first opportunity the Board of Regents have had to discuss the results of last school year’s reading and math tests since they were released late last month. And while the Regents seemed to be in agreement that the gaps are problematic, there was little discussion of what to do about it beyond requesting more data.

The test scores released in September show just under 35 percent of black students statewide are proficient in reading, 17 points below their white peers. In math, the gap jumps to 25 points. (The gaps are similar for Hispanic students compared with their white peers.)

The gaps are even wider in New York City.

Regent Judith Johnson, who has repeatedly criticized the state tests for not reflecting student learning across different ethnic groups, said the education department is still not doing enough to analyze the causes of racial differences in proficiency on the grades 3-8 exams. Those gaps, Johnson said, will bring down the competitiveness of the American workforce.

“It’s absolutely based on poverty and color,” Johnson said. “That has not changed and that begs for analysis at this point.”

Commissioner MaryEllen Elia acknowledged “troubling gaps” on student achievement, but also said state officials, including the Regents, have been working on it for years. She also pushed back on the idea that the tests themselves aren’t useful, arguing they draw attention to issues of inequity.

“If we didn’t have an opportunity to see this, it wouldn’t be as high up in our mindsets,” she said.

While some gaps have narrowed slightly among certain student groups, it’s happening at a glacial rate, said Regent Luis Reyes. He pointed to a two-year period where the gap between Hispanic students and their white peers shrunk by about 1 percent on both math and English tests.

“One percent is not a revolution, it’s not a reform, it’s not a transformation,” Reyes said. “It’s ice age.”

Reducing an emphasis on state tests in how officials judge overall school performance is part of the education department’s plan under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. In coming up with school ratings, officials will consider factors such as how often students are suspended, are absent from class, and how prepared they are for life after high school.

Regent Kathy Cashin said she wants to see teaching and learning take the main stage of the state’s education agenda. “The needle hasn’t moved for minority children in decades,” she said.

Elia emphasized that the test includes an essay and that it’s not “just a multiple choice test.” And she reminded the Regents that the math and English assessments are required by the federal government, but there are options to consider performance-based testing on science exams. Elia has previously shown some interest in an alternative science test.