Study finds Indy charter schools increased segregation

Critics of charter schools have long worried that they engage in “creaming,” attracting the best students and most engaged parents and leaving neighborhood public schools the rest. But a more serious question is whether charter schools have contributed to the re-segregation of schools by race.

A study of Indianapolis charter schools suggests that, in some cases, they have.

The study, conducted by Johns Hopkins University education professor Marc Stein and published last summer in the American Journal of Education, found that charter-school choice in Indy led to “higher degrees of racial isolation and less diversity” than in the public schools the students were leaving.

African-American students were more likely to enroll in charter schools with a higher concentration of black students than the neighborhood schools they left; and white students more likely to enroll in schools with a higher percentage of white enrollment.

The average white student in the analytic sample chose a charter school that enrolled 13.9 percentage points more white students and 13.1 percentage points fewer black students than their previously enrolled school. Concomitantly, black students chose to enroll in charters with enrollments that were 9.2 percent more black and 5.6 percent less white than their former schools.

As a result, charter schools were becoming more racially isolated. In 2008-09, only one charter school in the study met the city desegregation target of having its enrollment of black students within 15 percentage points of Indianapolis Public Schools. When the charter schools opened, five met the target.

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State education department won’t disclose school grade data

The Indiana Department of Education is refusing to release data used to determine school grades for 2015, arguing it falls under an exception in the public-records law that says state agencies don’t have to disclose information that is “deliberative” and used for decision-making.

But an attorney and advocate for open government says the department is wrong to conceal the information, which would show how much grades might have been affected by the new, more difficult version of the ISTEP exam that students first took last spring.

“I think they’re misconstruing the deliberative information exception,” said Stephen Key, executive director and general counsel for the Hoosier State Press Association. The exception is intended to protect records that are opinion or speculation, he said, and the school-grade information is neither.

As has been extensively reported, Indiana switched to new learning standards and a harder-to-pass version of ISTEP in 2014-15. Passing rates plummeted and many schools expected to see their grades drop. In response, the General Assembly rushed through legislation to “hold schools harmless” if their grades got worse. Each school would get the higher of the grade it earned in 2014 or 2015.

When the Department of Education released the grades last month, it reported only the grades that schools were awarded, not the grades they actually earned. I emailed the department’s press office to ask for copies of the grades that schools would have received based on their 2015 test scores. As an alternative, I said, the department could provide the scores that schools earned on a 4-point scale, the basis for calculating the grades. These scores were made public in 2013 and 2014.

At the suggestion of the department’s press secretary, I filed a request for the data under the Indiana Access to Public Records Act. Continue reading

Educator or politician?

Jennifer McCormick, seeking the Republican nomination for Indiana superintendent of public instruction, says she wants to “take the politics out” of the office. Good luck with that. Especially when, as Chalkbeat Indiana reported, she announced her candidacy surrounded by representatives of Stand for Children, the Institute for Quality Education and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, some of the most political outfits in the state.

Candidates for Indiana superintendent run as Democrats or Republicans – and they run as part of a slate of candidates for state office, including governor – so the race will likely be political in every sense.

But let’s assume McCormick, the Yorktown Community Schools superintendent who is challenging Democratic incumbent Glenda Ritz, is being honest. Here is some unsolicited advice:

  • Keep your distance from ideologues, especially those of the school-choice-and-free-educational-market variety who have an outsized influence on state Republican politics. If the Walton family and their ilk come offering big campaign donations, run the other way. Fast.
  • Decide and make clear that, as superintendent, you will be a forceful advocate for the traditional public schools that nine of 10 Indiana students attend. Let your public school flag fly. Don’t let the charter-and-voucher tail wag the policy dog.
  • Be careful about criticizing Ritz for being “political.” To her supporters, it’s crystal clear that Gov. Mike Pence, Republican legislators and State Board of Education members are the ones who brought the politics with their relentless attacks on the Democratic superintendent.
  • Better yet, reach out to Ritz’s supporters, including the teachers’ unions. They won’t back you, but if you win, you should want to work with them. Make the election about effectiveness and transparency, and make it clear you’re not just a kinder, gentler Tony Bennett.

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