Choice vs. standards at the Indianapolis Project School

The flap over Mayor Greg Ballard’s decision to shut down the Indianapolis Project School raises a fundamental question about how schools are held accountable.

Should we set high standards, pressure schools to meet them and impose consequences when they don’t? Or should we focus on creating more options, trust parents to know what’s best for their children and let the market decide which schools stay open and which schools close.

Adam Baker, spokesman for Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett made the case recently for the market. If a school doesn’t perform, students will leave, he told the Indianapolis Star’s Kate Jacobson for a story about Indiana’s laissez-faire approach to online charter schools.

“If they start losing students, they start losing funding,” he said. “ … Ultimately, (we will) provide that transparency to allow parents to make that decision.”

But as the Star’s Scott Elliott blogged, the idea that the market will force schools to perform better hasn’t always worked. “The problem is schools are not like stocks or commodities,” Elliott wrote. “’Buying’ a school is a complex and emotional decision … Choosing a school also means joining a community of people who become your friends and your children’s friends. Deciding to leave is more akin to breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend than it is to selling a stock.”

Elliott was responding to Baker’s statement in the story about virtual charter schools, but the sentiment was probably even more applicable to the Indianapolis Project School, a real charter school.

Ballard announced Tuesday that he will revoke the school’s charter. He pointed out that only 29 percent of the school’s students passed both the math and English ISTEP-Plus exams last year. Perhaps more troubling, just 43.5 percent of third-graders passed IREAD-3, the new third-grade promotion test.

It may be that the “recently discovered serious financial problems” referenced by the mayor were a bigger factor in the decision to revoke. Note too that David Harris, CEO of the Mind Trust and a key player in the state’s charter-school movement, recently named the Indianapolis Project Schools as one of four Indiana charter schools that should close because they weren’t measuring up. Parent participation in the movement to opt out of standardized testing may not have helped politically.

Supporters have rallied around the Indianapolis Project School, insisting that test scores paint an inaccurate picture and students are thriving at the school, with its focus on project-based learning and community service. School leaders dispute the allegation that there were financial irregularities.

Parents clearly want to keep sending their children to the school – as Star columnist Dan Carpenter writes, “The entrepreneurial model has produced satisfied customers.” The market would keep it open.

But the public, not the parents, is paying for the school’s operation. And publicly funded education is arguably a public good that benefits us all, not a private good that helps only students. We shouldn’t rely on the market to make sure our education tax dollars are well spent.

7 thoughts on “Choice vs. standards at the Indianapolis Project School

  1. Steve, this was a poor effort, I’m sorry to say. The “meat” of the above that you accept comes out of the mouths of the coercive parties in power. The simple fact that you quoted David Harris and only labeled him a “key player” colors the perspective here. Not bothering to offer the transparent facts in evidence provided by TPS is damning as regards your bias in this post.

    Positioning this as something other than a calculated act by a political and corporate “cartel” is aiding and abetting the “party line.”

    This is not a “market” decision nor is it a “standards” decision.

    I could go on for quite some time about all aspects of the way “measurement” is only manipulation and only discriminatory if it’s used to “punish” rather than offer guidance, but we already have addressed all of this at the Common Errant over and over again. Please visit and perhaps learn something.

  2. When the results of The Project School produce relevant and proven statistical academic growth for students who have been at the school for three years or more, this is a good investment in public education. The 79% of children who come to The Project School have come from schools that have failed them and their families. TPS was and is the only appropriate choice for these families that have been failed elsewhere with their great rate of return not only academically, but as a whole person. Basing a judgemental decision on an average of an unethical one-test assessment is not an accurate picture of the successes of TPS. Schools are not businesses. Schools are for creating great citizens and TPS does this very well while not profiting off our children’s minds, bodies and souls.

  3. Pingback: Pot and Kettle Mind

  4. The state’s “hands off’ position on online charters is an abject failure to fulfill its duty to promote quality education and protect the public.

    If the market truly decides winner and losers, why have legislation that allows the state to take over “brick and mortar” schools? According to the market philosophy, poorly performing schools would naturally dwindle and die.

    Of course, that doesn’t happen. The state only uses the market meme selectively, especially if it bolsters the online industry, a free market approach it finds ideologically acceptable.

    By the way, why are the Project parents complaining?

    Isn’t their school being held to the same standards other schools must contend with (the ones that purportedly failed them in the first place)?

    Ironically, if it wasn’t for the hysteria over test scores charters wouldn’t even exist. They are being closed by the same forces that allowed to to open in the first place

    • The Project School is a school that stands for community involvement and for learning that encourages discovery and stability in a safe environment. It is a place of solace and protection.

      I’m sure all the folks at TPS would stand by all other schools in protesting a punitive testing regime.

      This isn’t “complaining” (a psychologically telling term) but committing to a mission that takes into account much more than Pearson Education’s Corporate Standards.

      • I am so sorry for the Project School parents, teachers, and children, above all. But I feel that it speaks to the issue that no one is “safe” in this environment of corporate takeover of our public schools. There are children whose lives are chaotic and fraught with hunger and violence who can’t possibly be held to the same (biased) standard on the ISTEP as those who are tucked in with a story and kisses every night. The playing field isn’t equal and the game is rigged anyway. That said, there are parents and children and teachers in public schools all over the state who love their neighborhood schools and would be devastated by their closing. At the rate we are going toward “reform” in this state, that is coming sooner than many of us know.

  5. From the description of student body it sounds as though most would be eligible for vouchers…I hope The Project School goes private and can stay open with voucher money!

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