What a tangled web …

In 2012, the Indiana State Board of Education and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett chose Charter Schools USA to run three Indianapolis schools that the state had taken over after years of low test scores.

Thus began a complex tale replete with politics, money and head-spinning networks of relationships – with the fate of the schools, T.C. Howe Community School, Emmerich Manual High School and Emma Donnan Middle School, still in the balance seven years later.

The saga took another turn last week when the state board rejected an appeal by Indianapolis Public Schools to let the schools return to its fold as “innovation network” schools. Instead, it called for Charter Schools USA, through a nonprofit affiliate, to keep running the schools, now as charter schools.

The Indiana Charter School Board could decide Friday whether to award charters to the CSUSA affiliate, called ReThink Forward Indiana. If it does, ReThink will have yet another CSUSA-connected group, Noble Education Initiative, manage the schools. Continue reading

Report shows scope of school choice

CLARIFICATION: The transfer report counts 5,407 students who live in the Indianapolis Public Schools District and who attend IPS “innovation network schools” as having transferred out of the district to charter schools. (Innovation network schools are part of IPS but operate much like charter schools and have their own school boards). If those students were counted as attending IPS schools, the proportion of state-funded students in the district who attend IPS schools would be 66.5%

Nearly 14% of state-funded K-12 students in Indiana attend schools other than public schools in their local school district, according to a report released last week by the Indiana Department of Education.

Some attend charter schools. Some attend private schools with help from state-funded tuition vouchers. But many transfer to public schools outside the district where they live, an option that has become increasingly common in the past decade.

Some districts are hurt especially hard by school choice. In Gary Community Schools, only 36.4% of students who live in the district attend local public schools. In the Indianapolis Public Schools district, the figure is barely half.

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Advantage, public schools

Christopher Lubienski and Sarah Theule Lubienski challenged conventional wisdom when they published research that found public schools were better than private schools at boosting student achievement.

Book cover The Public School AdvantageFive years later, their conclusions have been confirmed several times over – especially by studies of state voucher programs that provide public funding for students to attend private schools.

“In the last four years, every study of student achievement in voucher programs has found large negative impacts, except for a couple of studies that found no impact,” Christopher Lubienski said recently. “The programs are hurting the learning outcomes of children using the vouchers.”

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Charter schools excel – at PR

UPDATE: Matt Shafer Powell, chief content officer of WFYI Public Media, provided the following statement regarding this post and its reference to a letter supporting the Rooted School charter application:

As a journalistic enterprise, WFYI Public Media does not endorse nor support any particular argument or set of opinions within the charter school debate.  It’s important to us that the public recognizes WFYI as an independent voice, without editorial bias or influence. The letter in question is not representative of WFYI’s viewpoint.  It was written by a non-news employee who was unaware that the inclusion of WFYI’s name on the letter was an objectionable practice.

WFYI recently developed an ethics guide for each of its employees and will soon embark on an organization-wide training program to make sure everyone understands their role in our journalistic mission. Our hope is that such incidents as this are rare or non-existent in the future.

Kudos to WFYI for this thoughtful, ethical response.

Research has found that charter schools, overall, are no more effective than public schools at raising student achievement. But there’s one area where they seem to run circles around public schools:

Marketing and public relations.

How else can you explain the way individual charter schools generate so many favorable stories in the news media? It’s an impressive skill, one that public-school leaders might want to study.

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Court rejects charter schools’ funding claims

The Indiana Court of Appeals has dealt a setback to charter schools that sued to get more money from the state. The decision, written by Judge John Baker, overturned a Marion County trial court decision that the schools were entitled to additional funding.

CourtroomAnd this could be a big deal. If the charter schools had prevailed, it could have opened the door to complaints by other charters, costing Indiana tens of millions of dollars.

Indiana Connections Academy, a virtual charter school, sued the state in 2016. Two other schools, Andrew J. Brown Charter School in Indianapolis and Aspire Charter Academy in Gary, joined the lawsuit.

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School closings disrupt lives

Thousands of Indiana K-12 students may be scrambling to find schools just as the 2019-20 school year gets under way. The reason: The charter schools they attended, or in which they were enrolled, are shutting down, sometimes with little or no warning.

The big factor is the pending closure of Indiana Virtual School and Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy, which have been under fire for inflating enrollment numbers and for producing low test scores and abysmal graduation rates. Combined, they claimed over 7,000 students last year.

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With charter schools, ‘for-profit’ isn’t the issue

In Indiana, schools called Indiana Virtual School and Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy are finally shutting down after officials determined they inflated their enrollment figures by 50%, billing the state for as much as $40 million for students who didn’t enroll or didn’t earn credits.

In California, two businessmen have been charged with conspiracy, misappropriation of public funds and other offenses for a scam that involved opening 19 online schools and funneling $50 million in state education funds to companies that they controlled.

And in Louisiana, nearly half of the senior class at John F. Kennedy High School was found to be ineligible for graduation after officials discovered widespread grade-fixing and other problems.

What do Indiana Virtual School, Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy, the 19 California schools and John F. Kennedy High School have in common? Continue reading