The Indianapolis Star is running a compelling series about Arlington Woods Elementary School on the east side of Indianapolis, where an initiative called Project Restore has produced impressive gains in student performance, especially in math.
The series began Feb. 13 and continued Feb. 16 and Feb. 20; additional installments are scheduled Wednesday and next Sunday. Columnist Matthew Tully, who wrote the stories, and photographer Danese Kenon apparently had extraordinary access to the school’s teachers and students.
According to the Star, Arlington Woods has used high expectations for students, frequent testing and a relentless focus on learning to turn around what had been a low-performing urban school. More than 85 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches; most are African-American.
The emphasis on high expectations and frequent tests (“formative assessments” in educator jargon) is widely accepted, and it’s likely a reporter could find a similar approach at many Indiana schools. But the success at Arlington Woods makes a great counter-story – a “man-bites-dog” tale – to the conventional narrative that Indianapolis Public Schools are mired in a culture of failure.
It’s worth noting that this turn-around was apparently accomplished by educators who were at the school. It didn’t require busting the union, instituting merit pay, firing teachers, relying on market-driven parent choice or bringing in a turn-around expert trained by Marian University. Continue reading
Many school districts would face hardships under the budget and school funding formula unveiled last week by the Republican leaders of the Indiana House of Representatives – but none of them gets slammed harder than the Gary Community School Corp.
The GOP plan would cut funding for Gary schools by nearly $20 million over a two-year period. Add the $5 million that Gov. Mitch Daniels sliced from the district’s budget last year, and the city’s schools are looking at a 25-percent reduction.
We don’t talk much about race or class in 21st century America, but it’s hard not to notice that 97 percent of students in the Gary public schools are African-American and most come from low-income families. Look also at Indianapolis Public Schools, where two-thirds of students are black, Hispanic or multiracial and more than 80 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunches: IPS funding would be cut by $41.3 million over two years, about 15 percent, under the proposal.
All 60 Republicans in the Indiana House are white. It’s a safe bet that none are poor.
Republicans would point out that, even with the cuts, per-pupil funding will remain higher in Gary and Indianapolis than the state average. They might suggest that generous state funding hasn’t produced stellar test scores and graduation rates in those districts, so it’s time for something else.
One reason the funding imbalance developed was that Democrats long controlled the House and protected urban (and some rural) schools from funding cuts, even when they lost enrollment. The logic was sound: A district that loses a few students can’t necessarily close schools and lay off teachers without sacrificing quality.
But growing suburban school districts complained the formula wasn’t fair. Some even sued. Now Republicans control both the House and Senate in Indiana, and they are tilting the school-funding formula to favor their own constituents.