What’s the story on IPS Arlington Woods Elementary School?

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