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Indianapolis Public Schools considers letting high schoolers sleep in

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tired Indianapolis teens may soon be able to sleep in.

With research increasingly pointing to health and academic benefits for teens who are able to sleep later, some Indianapolis Public Schools board members are calling on the district to explore the possibility of starting high school later in the morning.

“Every bit of research shows that secondary school students should start school later,” said board member Kelly Bentley. “If we are really about doing what’s right for kids … I think we ought to really consider doing it.”

The issue surfaced at a school board meeting last week during a presentation by IPS operations officer David Rosenberg on a proposal to put the district on a new, standardized bus schedule.

Rosenberg said the new bus schedule would reduce transportation costs by ensuring that all buses have time to do multiple routes, first taking some kids to high school, then taking others to elementary schools.

The proposal called for high school classes to begin at 7:20 a.m. and elementary classes to start between 8:15 a.m. and 9:05 a.m.

Currently, bell schedules in IPS schools vary widely, but most high schools start at 7:30 a.m. and most elementary schools start after 9 am. (One notable exception is Shortridge High School, which offers an international baccalaureate magnet program and starts at 9:10 a.m.)

Rosenberg told the board that standardized, tiered start and release times could save $7 million a year by reducing the number of buses and drivers the district would need.

Several board members suggested that if the district is planning to change school start times, it should consider flipping the schedule, so that elementary school students start earlier and high schoolers have a later start time.

Many districts across the country have looked at school start times as studies show benefits ranging from lower dropout rates to fewer car accidents among high school students when their school day starts later.

University of Minnesota researcher Kyla Wahlstrom, who has been studying school start time policies for two decades, said nearly all the research points to academic and health benefits from starting high school later.

Wahlstrom said that teens who get less than 8 hours of sleep are more likely to use drugs, cigarettes and alcohol. They are also more likely to suffer from depression. Biology leads teens to naturally fall asleep and wake up later, so starting school later means students typically get more sleep.

In a federally funded investigation into the effects of later start times in eight districts that made the switch, Wahlstrom found that when school started later, students did better on several measures, including mental health, attendance and, at some schools, scores on standardized tests.

During the discussion before the board last week, board member Diane Arnold added that research also suggests that it is better for young children to start school earlier in the day.

“We’ve talked about this for many, many years,” she said. “(This should) be part of the conversation.”

But there are practical challenges that often stymie districts interested in making the shift.

One problem is that many teenagers have work, sports or extracurricular activities after school that would be made more difficult by a later school day. Another concern is that earlier start times for elementary schools can put pressure on families to find additional childcare in the afternoon.

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said the central office staff had discussed the proposal, but he remains skeptical about whether IPS should push the start of the high school day later in part because of practical concerns over issues such as whether it’s safe for elementary students to wait for the bus in the morning when it is still dark.

“There are some benefits, and there are some items to consider on both sides, in terms of how we start school,” Ferebee said.

Wahlstrom said districts often see resistance when they propose moving start times because of logistical challenges. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged later start times for middle and high schools last year, and districts are increasingly changing their policies.

“There’s no question that it’s a lot of work,” Wahlstrom said. “(But) parents are the ones with the strong initiative to say, ‘my child is desperately in need of more sleep.’ ”

Testing

New report shows Indianapolis students lag on test improvement, but innovation schools may be a bright spot

PHOTO: Anthony Lanzilote

A new study finds mixed results for Indianapolis Public Schools dramatic shake-up in recent years: Students in schools within the district boundaries are below the state average when it comes to improvement on tests, but students at charter and innovation schools appear to be doing better.

Indianapolis Public Schools students are making smaller gains on math and reading tests than their peers across the state, according to a study released Thursday by the Stanford-based group CREDO, which looked at data from 2014-15 through 2016-17. It is the first in a series of studies examining 10 cities. In Indianapolis charter schools, students are about on par with peers across the state, researchers found.

“Indianapolis students persistently posted weaker learning gains in math compared to the state average gains in the 2014 through 2017 school years,” said Margaret Raymond, Director of CREDO at Stanford University in a press release.

The most highly anticipated part of the study, however, is the first major look at the results for innovation schools, a new kind of district-charter partnership. Results from innovation schools show some positive signs but still left unanswered questions.

The study found that students at innovation schools, which were created in 2015-16 and have been rapidly expanding, made gains in math and reading in 2016-2017 that were similar to the state average. But the gains are not to a statistically significant degree.

If the innovation schools are able to maintain the pace of student improvement, it would be a remarkable boon for the district. The study is also further evidence that at least some of the innovation schools are helping students make big gains on state tests. When 2016-17 state test scores were released, several innovation schools had jumps in passing rates. But the inconclusive nature of the results also highlights how hard it is to judge a program that is still in its infancy.

Since the district began creating innovation schools in 2015, their ranks have rapidly swelled. There are now 20 innovation schools, which enroll about one in four of Indianapolis Public Schools’ students.

Innovation schools have drawn national attention from advocates for collaboration between traditional districts and charter schools. They are under the Indianapolis Public Schools umbrella, and the district gets credit for their test results from the state. But the schools are run by outside charter or nonprofit managers. The network includes a variety of schools, including failing campuses that were overhauled with charter partners, new schools, and previously independent charters.

Time crunch

Specialized high schools lawsuit could delay admissions decisions, New York City says in court filings

PHOTO: Christina Veiga/Chalkbeat
Asian-American parents and community leaders gathered in Brooklyn to learn about a lawsuit against part of the city's plan to integrate specialized high schools.

New York City students may have to wait longer than usual to learn where they’ve been accepted to high school as the city prepares for a ruling in a lawsuit challenging integration efforts, according to court records filed Wednesday.

The city asked Judge Edgardo Ramos to rule by Feb. 25 on a preliminary injunction to block admissions changes aimed at enrolling more black and Hispanic students in the city’s prestigious but segregated specialized high schools.

A decision would be needed by then in order to meet the “latest feasible date to mail offer letters,” which the city says would be March 18 given the tight timeline around the admissions process.  The delay would apply to all students, not just those vying for a seat at a specialized high school. 

“DOE is mindful that a delay in the mailing of high school offers will increase anxiety for students and families, cause complications for those students considering private school offers, and require specialized high schools and non-specialized high schools to reschedule and restaff open houses,” the letter said.

A spokesman for the education department said the city will “communicate with families when a final offer date has been determined.” Letters were originally scheduled to be sent by March 4.

Filed in December, the lawsuit against the city seeks to halt an expansion of the Discovery program, which offers admission to students who scored just below the cutoff on the exam that is the sole entrance criteria for specialized high schools. The Discovery expansion, slated to begin this year, is one piece of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to diversify the elite high schools.

Asian-American parents and community organizations say the expansion unfairly excludes their children. Asian students make up 62 percent of enrollment at specialized high schools, but comprise only 16 percent of the student body citywide.

The suit calls for a preliminary injunction, which would put the Discovery expansion on hold while the case winds its way through the courts — and would disrupt the admissions cycle already underway for eighth-graders enrolling in high school next year. The process of matching students to specialized high schools was scheduled to begin this week, the city’s letter states.

The plaintiffs wrote a letter supporting the city’s timeline for a decision on the preliminary injunction, saying their aim is to stop the proposed admissions changes “before they can have the anticipated discriminatory effect.”

Hitting pause on the Discovery program expansion would mean the education department has to recalculate the cutoff score for admission to specialized high schools, consult with principals, work with the test vendor to verify scores, and generate offer letters to send to students, city attorney Marilyn Richter wrote in a letter to the judge.

The education department “has never made such a significant course adjustment midstream in the process before,” she wrote.