Future of Schools

KIPP Indy is working to stop kids from disappearing over the summer. It’s a challenge many schools face

PHOTO: Hafsa Razi

Every summer, each teacher in KIPP Indy Public Schools gets a roster, about 20 student names long, to call before the start of the new school year.

It won’t be the only time students hear from the school before classes resume, either.

Over the course of the summer, every student gets a letter introducing them to their new teacher, a phone call to address any questions, and, if they’re new to KIPP Indy or don’t show up for orientation, additional phone calls or home visits. Administrators look at academic performance, attendance data, and behavioral issues, among other factors, to identify students in need of extra outreach.

The goal? Keeping in touch with students and making sure they’re ready to come back to KIPP Indy in the fall.

“Relationships with families are incredibly important. Staying in contact with them and making sure they know what they need to get to school ready on day one, whether that be transportation, or knowing about registration events — it’s just really important,” said Emily Pelino, executive director of KIPP Indy, an independent charter school network that oversees about 600 students.

Fewer families have left the school during the summer since KIPP Indy started these outreach efforts, according to Nick Perry, principal of KIPP Indy College Prep Middle. “There’s no silver bullet for it, but the biggest factor is we’re strengthening systems and culture and making families see this school as a good choice for their kids,” he said.

When students move from school to school, they tend to suffer academically. Nationally, most students change schools at least once during K-12, said Russell Rumberger, professor emeritus of education at University of California Santa Barbara.

A one-time switch that is planned, perhaps because a family has moved or is seeking a stronger academic program, usually won’t lead to long-lasting negative effects, Rumberger said.

But when a student moves frequently, or when those moves are unexpected — such as when a school closes, a family is evicted, or other sudden changes — the effects can be worse.

A 2010 study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that students who moved four or more times during their K-12 years were more likely to come from poor families and live in single-parent households than students who moved less often. They were also more likely to be African American.

Students who change schools often are less likely to graduate, and tend to score lower on state tests, according to a National Education Policy Center report. Rumberger, who wrote the report, said this is especially true when a move is just one aspect of instability in a student’s life.

Getting kids to come back in the fall also benefits KIPP Indy and other Indiana schools themselves — their state funding is based on the number of students who enroll each year.

Pelino said reducing the number of students who leave KIPP Indy schools is a major goal for the charter network, though they try to focus on reaching students who are leaving because they are dissatisfied, or aren’t getting what they need from the school.

“If a family is moving because of something that is in our control, we always want to get that feedback,” Perry added.

But it’s also important to let families know what their options are, Pelino said. KIPP Indy works with Indianapolis Public Schools to bus students to school, but some families who are moving might not know that KIPP Indy will provide bus service as long as they live somewhere in the IPS district.

Transportation is a big obstacle to keeping students in place — under the federal McKinney-Vento Act, districts are required to offer transportation for homeless students to their original school, regardless of where they are staying. But that often doesn’t happen for students who change residence between districts, or even within districts.

Summer outreach programs at other schools in the Indianapolis area usually aren’t as comprehensive as KIPP Indy’s, though some keep up with most of their students through summer camps or enrichment programs. But student mobility is a year-round concern — and indeed, the students in most need of support are often those who move mid-year.

Paul Kaiser, superintendent of Beech Grove City Schools, attributed student movement to the fact that many families in his district rent their homes. (According to 2015 census data, 46 percent of Beech Grove district residents live on rental property).

“People come and go. That’s what happens when you have a high poverty rate. People just kind of move in and out,” Kaiser said.

But, Kaiser said, many families who move out of the district continue to enroll their students in their old schools. Because the Beech Grove district is small, he said, it’s easier for each building’s “home-school advisers” to hear about a student’s potential move, and connect them with social services or housing subsidies to help them stay.

In Warren Township, outreach efforts likewise occur at the school level, said deputy superintendent Tim Hanson. Particularly in the higher grades where there are more counselors and social workers available, school staff work to identify and offer help to students in unstable situations and connect families to community resources.

“Teachers and principals are on front lines and would know of those situations. We do what we can to try to keep those situations stable…if there’s a situation where they’re not able to pay rent or pay bills, there are resources,” he said.

Students’ family backgrounds aside, in Indianapolis, school openings and closings and the availability of charters and vouchers have also contributed to moving students from school to school.

“There’s more deliberative choices and there’s more poorly informed choices,” Rumberger said. But, he added, “As long as parents have the opportunity to choose carefully, then that’s not necessarily a bad thing.”

Immigration fears

Chicago on Trump administration changes: ‘A sicker, poorer and less secure community’

PHOTO: Scott Olson/Getty Images
A scene from an August immigration rally in downtown Chicago. Mayor Rahm Emanuel submitted a public comment on the proposed public charge rule changes on Monday.

The possibility of tougher rules on immigration and citizenship has provoked “tremendous fear” and plummeting participation in publicly funded daycare programs and afterschool care, according to a federal memorandum the City of Chicago submitted Monday.

The Trump administration has proposed changes that would weigh participation in programs such as Medicaid, food stamps, or housing assistance when granting residency and citizenship.

The changes could be devastating, the Chicago memorandum warns.

They could affect 110,000 Chicago residents, according to the filing. One in three Chicago residents receives Medicaid benefits, which the proposed changes would affect.

Chicago and New York led a coalition of 30 cities that filed comments to the Department of Homeland Security over changes to the so-called “public charge” rule, which is used by immigration officials to decide who is allowed entry and permanent residency in the United States.

“History teaches that, given this choice, many immigrants will choose to forgo public aid, which will make them a sicker, poorer, and less secure community,” according to the City of Chicago’s comments. You can read the entire document below.

Already, the city said, a group called Gads Hill that operates child care centers in Pilsen and North Lawndale has struggled to enroll children because of families’ worries about the impending rules.

Another operator, Shining Star Youth and Community Services in South Chicago, saw families start to keep children home since the proposed changes were announced.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago told the city that participation in its after-school programming also has taken a hit, the filing said.

The changes to the proposed rule do not specifically mention Head Start or any of the publicly funded child care programs. But many families are fearful that participation in anything offered by the government — from child care to health care to even food programs — would bring them to the attention of immigration authorities.

Early childhood advocates shared similar concerns at a November meeting of the Early Learning Council, an influential group of policymakers who help set the state agenda for children ages birth to 5.

“Families are very confused about the changes,” Rocio Velazquez-Kato, an immigration policy analyst with the Latino Policy Forum, told the group. “They think that by enrolling in Head start or free and reduced-price lunch at school — that it will factor against them.”

Public comment on the proposed rule change was due Monday. The 60-day public comment period is required by law before the federal government delivers a final recommendation. 

Read Chicago’s full response below.



on the move

Lack of transportation, conflicting deadlines put school choice out of reach for some, study finds

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Fourth-graders Kintan Surghani, left, and Rachel Anderson laugh out the school bus window at Mitchell Elementary School in Golden.

More Colorado students use school choice to opt into traditional district-run schools than use it to attend charter schools. Those who do so are more likely to be white and middle- or upper-class than their peers. And transportation continues to be a barrier for students who want to go somewhere other than their neighborhood school.

Those are the findings of a report on choice and open enrollment in the traditional public school sector put out by Ready Colorado, a conservative education reform advocacy group that supports greater access to school choice.

The report, “Open Doors, Open Districts,” looked at the roughly 49,800 Colorado students who attended school in a district other than the one in which they resided during the 2016-17 school year and another 95,600 who used school choice within the 12 largest districts in the state. Together, these 145,400 students make up roughly 16 percent of all Colorado students. Another 13 percent of state students attend charter schools.

Since 1990, the School Choice Act has allowed students to enroll in any public school they want, without paying tuition, provided there is room — and that the school provides the services that student needs, a sticking point for many students who require special education services.

The number of students using this system to attend school in another district increased 58 percent over 10 years to 49,800 in 2016. Roughly 6,000 of those students attend multi-district online schools.

The students taking advantage of inter-district open enrollment are more likely to be white than Colorado students as a whole — 58 percent are white compared with 54 percent of all students. They’re also less likely to come from low-income families (36 percent, compared with 42 percent of all students), to speak a language other than English at home (8 percent compared with 14 percent statewide), or to have a disability (8 percent compared with 11 percent).

“It is important to understand these differences so that policy leaders and educators can work to ensure that open enrollment opportunities are more accessible for all Colorado families,” the report said. “The underrepresentation of Hispanic/Latino students and English learners suggests there may be some unmet needs in Spanish-speaking communities around inter-district choice — either in information, accessibility, or appropriate services for students.”

The report highlights two major barriers to more students using school choice.

Most districts don’t have the kind of common enrollment system that Denver pioneered or that Jeffco is rolling out each year. Most districts require parents to turn in paperwork at a particular school. Not only do districts not share the same deadlines as each other, often different schools in the same district have different deadlines.

The other is transportation. 

“Time spent driving students to school can conflict with work schedules for parents, and public transit options can be scarce in many areas, making open enrollment functionally impossible for families without a transportation solution,” the report said. In one rural district, a group of parents banded together and hired their own school bus to take students to another district.

A bill sponsored last year by state Sen. Owen Hill, a Colorado Springs Republican, would have addressed both issues, encouraging the creation of more consistent deadlines across the state and allowing districts to cross boundaries to provide transportation. That bill was defeated in the Democratic-controlled House after some school districts said it would set the stage for larger, wealthier districts to poach students.

The transportation provision was later added to an unrelated bill in the final days of the session, a move that led to a lawsuit in which a judicial decision is pending.

Democrats now control both chambers of the Colorado General Assembly, and it’s not clear how any attempts to expand school choice would fare. Both school choice and charter schools have enjoyed bipartisan but not universal support in Colorado.

By highlighting the prominence of traditional public schools in how Colorado students use the choice system, advocates hope to separate choice and the popular idea that parents should be able to find the school that best meets their child’s needs from the more divisive debate about charter schools, which critics see as siphoning scarce dollars from other schools while not serving all students.

The report recommends developing more consistency between and within districts, providing more information to parents, and removing barriers to transportation.

Districts with higher ratings, which are determined primarily by results on standardized tests, tend to get more students than those with lower ratings, but some districts, particularly in the Denver metro area, send and receive large numbers of students, reflecting that parents and students are making decisions at the school rather than at the district level.

Metro area districts that have struggled to raise student achievement are losing large numbers of students to other districts. A quarter of students who live in Adams 14, whose low test scores prompted a state order for external management, attended school in neighboring districts in 2016. In Westminster, which just came off a state watchlist for low-performing schools this year, that number was 29 percent.

Ready Colorado found no clear relationship between districts that spent more per student and districts that attracted more students — but districts with higher enrollment get more money from the state for each student, creating incentives to compete for students.

Read the full report here.