It’s been five years since the Indiana State Board of Education took charge of five chronically underperforming urban public schools and handed them over to charter-school operators that were supposed to turn them around. How has that worked out?
Not very well, to judge by Indiana’s A-to-F grading system. Since the takeover, the schools have received two Ds and 18 Fs.
That’s a far cry from what Indiana education officials and the charter operators suggested would happen back in 2012. Scott Elliott, then with the Indianapolis Star, wrote at the time that he was “a bit surprised” the turnaround operators wanted four years to raise the schools’ grades to A or B.
In four years, they didn’t come close. Five years could still bring a different story — school grades for the 2016-17 school year won’t be calculated until this fall — but it doesn’t seem likely.
State officials awarded contracts to operate Indianapolis Public Schools’ Manual and Howe high schools and Emma Donnan Middle School to Charter Schools USA, a for-profit Florida company with ties to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and current Gov. Rick Scott. It awarded Roosevelt High School in Gary to Edison Learning, a New Jersey company, and IPS Arlington High School to EdPower, a local nonprofit.
In the narrative pushed by former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, who engineered the takeover, the charter operators would sweep aside public-school mismanagement, turn the schools around and make them successful. Indy Star columnist Matthew Tully declared that Bennett and the charter operators would be “winners or losers” depending on the success of the move.
But Bennett lost his 2012 re-election bid to underfunded political novice Glenda Ritz. He became Florida’s K-12 education chief but lost that job after documents surfaced suggesting he had altered the grade of a charter school run by a campaign supporter.
EdPower ran Arlington High School for three years, then handed it back to IPS. Edison Learning still runs Gary Roosevelt after disputes over funding and facilities. Despite receiving millions of extra dollars in federal School Improvement Grants, the five schools have struggled. Manual got Ds in 2014 and 2015 but fell back to an F last year. The other schools: straight Fs.
School turnaround is a timely topic because analysts are fretting over whether states are doing enough to boost their “worst schools” under the Every Student Succeeds Act, the new federal law. Sources quoted in a recent Washington Post story criticized several states but praised Tennessee for a plan in which “the worst-off schools will be taken over by the state and managed by a charter school operator.”
In Indiana, we’ve been down that road. Arguably we’re still on it, and it’s not pretty.
Last week, the State Board of Education voted 9-2 to extend Charter Schools USA’s contract to operate Howe and Manual high schools through June 2020. Some members were apparently impressed by Charter Schools USA preliminary data suggesting test scores improved in 2017. They will amend the contract to say the schools should raise their grades to D or higher by 2020, however.
So instead of raising the schools’ grades to A or B within four years, the turnaround operators will now be expected to raise their grades to D in eight years. It’s not what we were promised.