Future of Schools

Days after DeVos touts Indianapolis’s ‘innovation schools’ initiative, three more schools are added

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Kindergarteners serve paper breakfast at School 15.

The Indianapolis Public Schools board pushed forward with its vision for creating a more decentralized — and less unionized — district Thursday night, approving three new innovation schools.

The move comes just days after U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos highlighted the Indianapolis innovation school program as a model strategy for giving local communities more control over schools.

DeVos focused on School 15, a neighborhood-led innovation school that will partner with local community groups. School 15’s plan was approved Thursday night, but so were two other schools with very different stories. School 42, a neighborhood school that has struggled on state tests, will be turned over to a charter operator as a way to stave off state intervention, and its teachers and principal will be replaced. A local charter network, Avondale Meadows, will be opening a third innovation school from scratch.

Although their situations are different, all three schools will be part of the district’s rapidly growing innovation network. Schools in the network can tap into district services such as busing and special education, and unlike charter schools, they benefit from local taxes. IPS in turn gets credit for test scores and other performance measures at the schools when the district is assessed by the state. The administration also counts students at innovation schools in the district’s enrollment — a boon to the long-shrinking district.

But the schools are controversial because they are managed by outside partners — either non-profits or charter operators. Because teachers are employed by the management groups, they are not part of the district teachers union.

That was why Elaine Bultman, a teacher and union member, said she was at the meeting to speak against the innovation conversion at School 15.

Innovation schools “are sold as a way to improve student learning, when in fact they are chiefly a measure to separate teachers from their professional association,” Bultman said. “These ideas are about adults and power over adults, not about the kids and their education.”

But Bultman was an exception at the meeting: Dozens of parents and community members turned out to support the schools.

School 15 was in the spotlight this week because DeVos highlighted it as a positive example of “out-of-the-box approaches” in a speech she gave Monday. But in fact, many of the people planning the new innovation school envision it as return to the traditional neighborhood-school model, an approach they believe will help revive a school that has chronically low test scores.

School 42 will convert to an innovation school because it is in distress. After five years of failing grades from the state, it is facing state intervention and its principal is leaving for another position. IPS is fending off the possibility of state intervention by restarting School 42 as an innovation school, managed by Ignite Achievement Academy, a charter school led by Shy-Quon Ely II and Brooke Beavers. The pair previously led Tindley Summit Academy.

“If we are not able to produce a compelling plan … the state board of education has the authority to intervene,” Superintendent Lewis Ferebee told the board when it discussed the school last month. “We believe this is the strongest recommendation that we can present.”

Ignite leaders have been meeting with parents at School 42 in recent weeks, and they have won some support.

“I was opposed to the move to innovation at first. … I was concerned about the staff changes that come with innovation,” Courtney Byrd, a parent at School 42, told the board. But once she learned more about the school, she became supportive. “Ignite has programming that fit the needs of our kids today. Ignite wants to make learning fun for our kids again.”

Avondale Meadows Middle School will open as a new school this fall. It is an extension of an existing charter network that operates to K-8 schools, and although it will be part of the innovation network it will not be in an IPS building.

Indiana's 2018 legislative session

These are the 13 education bills poised to become law in Indiana in 2018

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
House Speaker Brian Bosma talks with Democrats shortly before the session adjourned without passing several bills.

Despite a chaotic end to this year’s legislative session, lawmakers managed to push through several education bills that could bring changes for teachers, students and schools.

And it’s not quite over either.

Lawmakers ran out of time before their midnight deadline last week, leaving behind several major bills, including a bill that would expand state takeover in Gary and Muncie school districts. On Monday, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced he’d be calling for a special session so they could revisit that issue and others.

In non-budget year, it can be hard to make significant change because money is generally not available to fund new programs or increase existing ones. This year, the biggest education issue lawmakers passed was a bill to make up an unexpected shortfall in school funding.

Below is a summary of education bills that passed this session, which next head to Holcomb, where he can decide whether to sign them into law. You can find the status of all the bills introduced this year here, and Chalkbeat’s 2018 legislative coverage here.

Graduation and workforce

Senate Bill 50 establishes the governor’s workforce cabinet, which would oversee job training efforts across the state. The cabinet would create a “career navigation and coaching system,” which all Indiana high schools would be required to participate in. State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick would be a cabinet member.

House Bill 1426 would combine Indiana’s four diplomas into a single diploma with four “designations” that mirror current diploma tracks. In addition, it would change rules for getting a graduation waiver and create an “alternate diploma” for students with severe special needs.The bill would also allow the Indiana State Board of Education to consider alternatives to Algebra 2 as a graduation requirement. It makes several changes to state tests, replacing the state high school exam with a national college-entrance exam and eliminating the requirement that schools give the Accuplacer remediation test. The final version of the bill also changes the timing of testing from earlier version. Students wouldn’t begin the new graduation pathways plan until 2021, so the same deadline was applied to switching to a college entrance exam for state accountability. Until then, state education officials will have to decide what annual test high schoolers take when students in grades 3-8 switch to the new ILEARN test next year.


House Bill 1001 would close the gap in school funding that resulted from miscalculations in the number of students attending public schools. The bills would let the state transfer up to $25 million this year and up to $75 million next year from a reserve fund to the state general fund, where it could then be distributed to districts. The bill also calls for a study of virtual education programs within school districts.


Senate Bill 172 would require public schools to offer computer science classes as an elective in high schools, as well as a part of the science curriculum for all K-12 students, by 2021. The bill also sets up a grant program to help pay for teacher training in computer science.

Senate Bill 297 would require schools to include “employability skills,” also known as “soft skills,” in their curriculums. The idea for the bill came from David Freitas, a member of the state board of education.

Senate Bill 65 would require school districts to let parents examine any instructional materials dealing with sex education. It would also require schools to send out consent forms for sex ed classes, where parents could then opt students out of the class. If they do not, the students would still receive instruction.

House Bill 1399 would require the state board to create elementary teacher licenses in math and science. It would also require the state education department to create an incentive program to reward teachers who earn the content area licenses.

Senate Bill 387 would allow districts to pay teachers different amounts and give special education and science teachers extra stipends in an effort to fill jobs. A previous measure that would let districts hire up to 10 percent of unlicensed teachers has been added and removed several times this year, and was killed for good in conference committee. The bill also makes changes to the state’s career specialist permit. Career specialists would have to pass an exam showing they understand how students learn and the practice of teaching, in addition to content exams. The bill also removes a provision from the current version of the permit that says a career specialist must have a bachelor’s degree in the area they wish to teach in.


House Bill 1420, among several other measures, would not let a student who has been expelled from a virtual charter school for non-attendance re-enroll in that same school during the same school year.

House Bill 1421 would ask the state education department to develop a school discipline model that reduces suspensions and expulsions, especially among students of color. It also requires the department to provide guidance and information to districts, beginning in 2019, that want to use that model. It encourages the legislative council to study positive student discipline and restorative justice and asks the education department to survey districts on those practices.

House Bill 1398 would allow a group of charter schools and districts to form a “coalition” to pursue innovative academic strategies. Coalition members could also waive certain state requirements, such as the requirement that students pass Algebra 2 to graduate.

Senate Bill 217 would require districts and charter schools to screen students for dyslexia and by 2019, to employ at least one reading specialist trained in dyslexia, among other provisions.

House Bill 1314 would set up data sharing between the state’s education and child services departments. It would also require that the Indiana State Board of Education release an annual report about foster and homeless youth education.

'A Significant Change'

Done doing ‘more with less,’ Brighton district will move to a four-day school week

PHOTO: Seth McConnell/The Denver Post
Students in Alicia Marquez's 6th grade science class at Overland Trail Middle School in Brighton watch a video and work on home work in August 2017. (Photo by Seth McConnell/The Denver Post)

Students in the Brighton school district will attend school just four days a week starting next school year.

Officials with the fast-growing district north of Denver announced they were considering the change earlier this year after voters turned down a request in November for more local taxes, the latest in a string of defeats for District 27J. This week, they made it official.

There are already 87 school districts in Colorado that use a four-day week at all their schools, but until recently, the phenomenon was largely limited to rural districts. Brighton will be the largest school district in the state on a four-day week

In response to the concerns of working parents, the district will offer paid child care for elementary-aged children every Monday, when school is closed, officials said. Teachers will work some Mondays on planning and professional development.

The change is expected to save the district about $1 million a year, but Brighton Superintendent Chris Fiedler previously told Chalkbeat that the biggest benefit will be “to attract and retain teachers” in a district whose salaries are among the lowest in the metro area.

“I realize this will be a significant change for our students, their families, and the communities we are so fortunate to serve, but our district can no longer be expected to do more with less financial resources,” Fiedler said in a press release.

A mill levy override, a type of property tax increase, hasn’t been approved in District 27J since 2000. A 16th request for more revenue failed in November.

“We are 100 percent committed to providing our students with the necessary skills and competencies that will enable a future far beyond graduation,” Fiedler said. “To that end, I believe it is in our students’ best interest to provide high-quality, engaged teachers using 21st Century tools for learning four days a week rather than not have them five days a week.”

Local union president Kathey Ruybal told Chalkbeat that teachers showed “overwhelming support” for the change.