Future of Schools

How are Indiana charter schools doing? 9 things to know from the state’s first study

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
Students working at Tindley Accelerated Schools' girls-only middle school.

Nearly two decades after charter schools started operating in Indiana, officials have released the first state-mandated report on what they look like and how they’re doing.

The report is required under a bill lawmakers passed in 2015, and it will be repeated every five years. It covers enrollment trends, academic achievement, student demographics, and funding. The idea for the report came from a broader charter school bill designed to strengthen oversight and discourage “authorizer shopping.”

“We have a very robust charter sector in our state but … we want to make sure we have high quality charters that serve the needs of students,” said the bill’s author, Rep. Bob Behning, when the bill was introduced.

Last year, Indiana was home to 93 charter schools that enrolled 44,444 students, most of which attended brick-and-mortar schools, as opposed to online schools or adult high schools. Charter school students represent almost 4 percent of Hoosier students, and tend to have higher state letter grades than similar district schools.

However, when it comes to state letter grades, charter schools have certain advantages. For one, adult high schools are graded using a different formula, and innovation schools can opt to use a more generous yardstick that only factors in test improvement.

Below, we pulled out nine interesting facts from the report, which can be found in its entirety here. The Indiana State Board of Education is expected to discuss the report at its meeting Wednesday.

  1. Charter school enrollment has grown slowly in recent years — up less than one percentage point since 2012.
  2. While district students as a whole did better on state tests than those in charter schools, students of color in charter schools posted better results than their peers in district schools.
  3. Since 2011, 24 charter schools either decided to close on their own or were closed by their authorizers.
  4. Of the state’s eight authorizers, three oversee most of the state’s charter schools: The Indianapolis mayor’s office (35 schools), Ball State University (28 schools), and the Indiana Charter School Board (17 schools).
  5. The Indianapolis mayor’s office has the highest share of schools rated A and B at 50 percent, compared to the state charter school board at 41 percent and Ball State at 21 percent.
  6. Forty-three percent of students living in the Gary public school district attend a charter school. Twenty-eight percent of students living within Indianapolis Public Schools do.
  7. More than half of the state’s charter school students live in urban areas, with the highest numbers coming from Indianapolis, Gary, South Bend and Anderson. Indiana charter schools serve larger percentages of students living in poverty than traditional district schools.
  8. Indiana charter schools serve about the same percentages of students with disabilities and lower percentages of students learning English as a new language as traditional district schools.
  9. Virtual charter schools are notable exceptions in several areas. Compared to typical charter schools, their student populations are far more white and come from families with higher incomes. Virtual school students also tend to do worse on state tests and make less improvement from year to year.

Future of Schools

What time does school start? Some IPS parents concerned about coming schedule changes

PHOTO: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post

Dozens of parents filled the Indianapolis Public Schools board room Tuesday afternoon for a last-minute meeting about changing school start times, a sign of how disruptive many believe the changes could be.

Next year, the district is rolling out a new all-choice high school model, where students choose schools by focus area rather than neighborhood. In order to bus students from around the district to those schools without swelling costs, the administration is shifting start and end times for elementary, middle, and high school campuses.

Ultimately, the district says the new schedule will make it more likely that buses will arrive on time.

“With the all choice high school model, there has to be some modification,” Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said ahead of the meeting.

The administration’s recommendation, which was developed after feedback from parents, aims to limit the number of schools with significant changes in start and end times. For about 80 percent of schools, bell times will not change by more than 10 minutes, according to the administration. Under the latest proposal, most middle and high schools will run from 7:20 a.m. to 2:10 p.m. Most elementary schools will run from 9:20 a.m. to 3:55 p.m. The board will vote Thursday on new school start and end times.

The process for developing the plan inspired significant criticism from parents at the transportation meeting.

Dustin Jones, who has two children at the Butler Lab School, said he was particularly concerned that the district was still deciding on the new schedule in April after many parents already made school choices for next year.

“The appearance is the all choice model was ideologically kind of the direction to go, and then that the transportation to support that decision is lagging behind,” Jones said. “That shows a lack of ability and foresight.”

For months, the district has been holding meetings and asking parents for input on the schedule for next year. The administration, however, has struggled to develop a plan that would balance myriad challenges, such as containing costs, limiting disruptions for families, and handling a shortage of bus drivers that is posing significant challenges.

“There’s been an ongoing discussion of the transportation dilemma and challenge,” said board member Mary Ann Sullivan at the board meeting after the discussion. “I think this reflects a very good resolution to most of the concerns. It does not address every concern of every family or every commissioner.”

Initially, leaders were also considering flipping school start times so high schoolers could start at a later time because research shows adolescents benefit from sleeping later. But in the face of practical concerns, such as high school student work schedules, the board abandoned that goal.

That was a disappointment for Molly McPheron, a pediatrician and parent in the district.

“The evidence is really clear that when high schools start later, children have improved health outcomes as well as improved graduation rates, better grades,” McPheron said. “We are going through a lot to make sure high schoolers have choice, have all these options. And then there’s kind of this simple thing that we could do that could potentially substantially improve their lives.”

Summer school

Detroit district adding grades K-2 to summer school to help youngest students boost reading scores

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder

For the first time in years, the Detroit district summer school program will start in kindergarten.

District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti recommended younger school children, in grades kindergarten to second grade, be included in the summer school program at the academic subcommittee meeting Monday. The move is meant to help prepare young students for a new state law hanging over the district. The law will prevent third-graders who aren’t reading at grade level from advancing to fourth grade starting in 2020.

This is a daunting prospect in a district where last year about 10 percent of Detroit third-graders passed the state’s annual English Language Arts exam. Across the state, only 44 percent of third-graders passed the test.

“There will be a deep focus on literacy at the primary level which is also new, to get as many students ready as possible before the third-grade retention law that’s coming,” Vitti said.

With the law looming, many schools and districts across the state are scrambling to find ways to make sure their youngest students are learning to read. In the main Detroit district, efforts have included changing the curriculum for K-8 students and creating new reading programs.

The summer school announcement is the latest effort to prepare students for the upcoming law. Vitti even considered holding summer school for only K-3, but reconsidered after hearing community feedback.

“Listening to principals and teachers, there was a need to serve as many kids as possible to make sure they… are not falling behind,” Vitti said of the district’s choice to continue offering programs for older grades. For older grades, students are able to make up credit they failed to attain during the school year.

This summer marks the first time in years that middle-schoolers who are in danger of being held back will be able to repeat classes they failed in hopes of advancing to the next grade.

Vitti also recommended bus transportation for K-8 students and bus passes for high school students, a focus on literacy in grades K-5, and a focus on course recovery for grades 6-12. He plans to use assistant principals to run the program.

Using assistant principals has two benefits. It frees up principals to focus on filling teacher vacancies and it helps prepare the assistants to take on more duties to become principals themselves in the future.

“Because now principals are working 12 months and they are focusing on recruiting,” Vitti said, assistant principals will be expected to run the programs.

“It’ll allow them to get used to managing the building and dealing with issues of students and parents” to prepare them for principal positions, Vitti said.

Summer school will start on June 26 and run through July 26. Students will attend for four hours daily, Monday through Thursday.

This proposal will be voted on by the full school board next month.

Read through the proposals to the district’s summer school program below:

  • Strategic focus on K-5 students for skills development in literacy and 6-12 grade students in course recovery.
  • Students will attend their neighborhood assigned school, except for schools having major maintenance or being used for teacher training. Students from these schools will be given an opportunity to attend the next closest school.
  • Transportation will be provided based on corner stops for K-8 grade students. High school students will be provided bus passes.
  • The district and schools will combine Title I money, grants, such as the carryover grant from 21st Century, and private funding from community partners to support the summer program. Recreational centers will also be open.
  • Assistant principals will run summer school as principals recruit staff. Schools will be assigned clerical staff for enrollment, customer service, and payroll.