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

hurdle cleared

Indiana’s federally required education plan wins approval

PHOTO: Courtesy of the Indiana Department of Education
State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick greets elementary school students in Decatur Township.

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has signed off on Indiana’s federally required education plan, ushering in another era of changes — although not exactly major ones — to the state’s public school system.

The U.S Department of Education announced the plan’s approval on Friday. Like other states, Indiana went through an extensive process to craft a blueprint to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, which was signed into law in 2015.

“Today is a great day for Indiana,” state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick said in a statement. “Our ESSA plan reflects the input and perspective of many stakeholders in communities across our state. From the beginning, we set out to build a plan that responded to the needs of Hoosier students. From our clear accountability system to our innovative, locally-driven approach to school improvement, our ESSA plan was designed to support student success.”

The federal government highlighted two aspects of Indiana’s plan. One is a pledge to close achievement gaps separating certain groups of students, such as racial and ethnic groups, from their peers by 50 percent by 2023.

Another is a staple of other states’ plans, as well: adding new ways for measuring how ready students are for attending college or starting their careers. Indiana education officials and lawmakers have made this a priority over the past several years, culminating in a new set of graduation requirements the Indiana State Board of Education approved late last year.

Under Indiana’s plan, high schoolers’ readiness will be measured not just by tests but also by performance in advanced courses and earning dual credits or industry certifications. Elementary school students will be measured in part by student attendance and growth in student attendance over time. Test scores and test score improvement still play a major role in how all schools are rated using state A-F letter grades.

In all, 35 states’ ESSA plans have won federal approval.

Advocates hope the law will bring more attention to the country’s neediest children and those most likely to be overlooked — including English-learners and students with disabilities.

Indiana officials struggled to bring some state measures in line with federal laws, such as graduation requirements and diplomas.

Under the state’s ESSA plan, A-F grades would include these measures (see weights here):

  • Academic achievement in the form of state test scores.
  • Test score improvement.
  • Graduation rate and a measure of “college and career readiness” for high schools.
  • Academic progress of English-language learners, measured by the WIDA test.
  • At least one aspect of school quality. For now, that will be chronic absenteeism, but the state hopes to pursue student and teacher surveys.

The last two are new to Indiana, but represent ESSA’s goal of being more inclusive and, in the case of chronic absenteeism, attempting to value other measures that aren’t test scores.

Because the Indiana State Board of Education passed its own draft A-F rules earlier this month — rules that deviate from the state ESSA plan — it’s possible Hoosier schools could get two sets of letter grades going forward, muddying the initial intent of the simple A-F grade concept parents and community members are familiar with.

The state board’s A-F changes include other measures, such as a “well-rounded” measure for elementary schools that is calculated based on science and social studies tests and an “on-track” measure for high schools that is calculated based on credits and freshman-year grades. Neither component is part of  the state’s federal plan. The state board plan also gets rid of the test score improvement measure for high-schoolers.

While that A-F proposal is preliminary, if approved it would go into effect for schools in 2018-19.

The state can still make changes to its ESSA plan, and the state board’s A-F draft is also expected to see revisions after public comment. But the fact that they conflict now could create difficulties moving forward, and it has led to tension during state board meetings. Already, the state expected schools would see two years of A-F grades in 2018. If both plans move forward as is, that could continue beyond next year.

Read: Will Indiana go through with a ‘confusing’ plan that could mean every school winds up with two A-F grades?

Find more of our coverage of the Every Student Succeeds Act here.

turnaround

Aurora recommends interventions in one elementary school, while another gets more time

Students during PE class at Lyn Knoll Elementary School in 2016 in Aurora, Colorado. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

Aurora school district officials on Tuesday will recommend turning over management of some operations at one of their elementary schools to an outside management company.

The school, Lyn Knoll Elementary, is located in northwest Aurora near 2nd Avenue and Peoria Street and serves a high number of students from low-income families, with 4 percent of students identified as homeless. The school was one of three Aurora schools that earned the lowest rating from the state in 2017.

That rating automatically flags the school under a district process for school interventions. The process directs district officials to consider a number of possible improvement plans, including closure or turning the school over to a charter school.

Lyn Knoll has had good rankings in recent years before slipping dramatically in the past year, a change that put it on the turnaround list. The district did not recommend intervening at Paris Elementary, even though that school has been in priority improvement for years and will face state sanctions if it has one more year without improvement.

Annual ratings for Lyn Knoll Elementary

  • 2010: Improvement
  • 2011: Improvement
  • 2012: Performance
  • 2013: Improvement
  • 2014: Priority Improvement
  • 2016: Performance
  • 2017: Turnaround
Colorado Department of Education

The board will discuss the recommendation on Tuesday and vote on the school’s fate next month. In November, four union-backed board members who have been critical of charter schools won a majority role on the district’s school board. This will be their first major decision since taking a seat on the board.

In September, Superintendent Rico Munn had told the school board that among January’s school improvement recommendations, the one for Paris would be “the most high-profile.” A month later the district put out a request for information, seeking ideas to improve Aurora schools.

But in a board presentation released Friday, district officials didn’t give much attention to Paris. Instead, they will let Paris continue its rollout of an innovation plan approved two years ago. Officials have said they are hopeful the school will show improvements.

The recommendation for Lyn Knoll represents more drastic change, and it’s the only one that would require a board vote.

The district recommendation calls for replacing the current principal, drafting a contract for an outside company to help staff with training and instruction, and creating a plan to help recruit more students to the school.

Documents show district officials considered closing Lyn Knoll because it already has low and decreasing enrollment with just 238 current students. Those same documents note that while officials are concerned about the school’s trends, it has not had a long history of low ratings to warrant a closure.

In considering a charter school conversion, documents state that there is already a saturation of charter schools in that part of the city, and the community is interested in “the existence of a neighborhood school.” Two charter networks, however, did indicate interest in managing the school, the documents state.
The district recommendation would also include stripping the school’s current status as a pilot school.

Lyn Knoll and other schools labeled pilot schools in Aurora get some internal district autonomy under a program created more than 10 years ago by district and union officials.

Because Lyn Knoll is a pilot school, a committee that oversees that program also reviewed the school and made its own recommendation, which is different from the district’s.

In their report, committee members explained that while they gave the school low marks, they want the school to maintain pilot status for another year as long as it follows guidance on how to improve.

Among the observations in the committee’s report: The school doesn’t have an intervention program in place for students who need extra help in math, families are not engaged, and there has not been enough training for teachers on the new state standards.

The report also highlights the school’s daily physical education for students and noted that the school’s strength was in the school’s governance model that allowed teachers to feel involved in decision making.

Read the full committee report below.