Indianapolis charter schools nabbed two of the four School Improvement Grants that the Indiana Department of Education awarded this week.
The DOE announced Monday that it was giving $2.2 million to Indianapolis Metropolitan High School and $1.6 million to Challenge Foundation Academy, an Indianapolis elementary school. Both were created within the past six years as part of the boom in urban charter schools in Indiana.
The other Indiana School Improvement Grants were for $5.8 million to Glenwood Middle School in Evansville and $5.9 million to Hammond High School. The funds are awarded for a three-year period.
The School Improvement Grants, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, are intended to help turn around the state’s persistently lowest achieving schools – basically the bottom 5 percent, in terms of test scores and graduation rates, of schools that get or qualify for federal Title I funding.
The fact that two of the four grants are going to charter schools reflects the faith being put in charters, both at the state and federal level, to lead the way in school reform. Charter schools are publicly funded and don’t charge tuition, but they operate apart from local school districts and are exempt from some state regulations.
Lauren Auld, spokeswomen for the state DOE, said the 16 schools that applied for School Improvement Grants also included Bendix High School in South Bend; George Washington, John Marshall and Broad Ripple schools in Indianapolis Public Schools; Wayne High and Miami Middle schools in Fort Wayne; Prince Chapman Middle, Paul Harding High and Village Elementary in East Allen Community Schools; Gary Roosevelt High, East Chicago High, and one charter, Campagna Academy in Schererville.
In other words, the charters went two-for-three in winning the grants, while the non-charter public schools went two-for-13.
Under the federal requirements, the schools must submit improvement plans that incorporate one of four models: “turnaround,” which includes replacing the principal and at least half the staff; “restart,” converting the school to a charter school; “closure” and sending the students to a higher-achieving school; and “transformation,” replacing the principal and implementing curricular and other reforms.
Those approaches no doubt give an edge to charters, which are less likely to need teachers’ unions to sign off on plans that would be disruptive for some teachers, to say the least.
Andy Gammill reported in the Star that Indy Met will move to a 200-day school year and Challenge Foundation Academy will add a summer program – and both will implement performance pay or performance-based bonuses for teachers.
Critics of charters are likely to wonder why, within a few years of being created, they already need to be transformed with infusions of millions in public cash. Indy Met High School, pre-transformation, was portrayed as a “model of success” last week by Indy Star columnist Matt Tully, an eloquent advocate for school reform in Indianapolis.
The U.S. Department of Education awarded Indiana $61 million for School Improvement Grants from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in March. Auld said Bendix, George Washington, John Marshall and Campagna revised their applications will be considered for an additional round of grants in the next few weeks. Federal money that isn’t awarded will be carried over to future years, she said.