What’s next for Indy ‘turnaround academies’?

It seemed like a victory for Indianapolis Public Schools when the Indiana Charter School Board voted Dec. 13 to reject charter applications for three Indianapolis “turnaround academy” schools.

But it’s not over till it’s over. The fate of the schools – Emmerich Manual High School, T.C. Howe School and Emma Donnan Middle School – is still in the hands of the State Board of Education. And the board has already turned a cold shoulder to the idea of returning the schools to IPS.

The State Board of Education will consider what happens next at its Jan. 15 meeting.

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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

Select Commission on Education meeting today

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett and his staff will give a presentation on “turnaround academies” today to the Indiana Select Commission on Education, according to an agenda for the meeting.

The commission, made up of members of the Indiana House and Senate education committees, was created this year by the legislature to review some of the reforms that have been implemented by Bennett and the State Board of Education.

Turnaround academies are schools that, because of a history of poor performance, are taken over by the state and turned over to outside charter-school operators or school-management teams. So far, they include six schools in Indianapolis and one in Gary.

According to the agenda, there will also be time at today’s meeting for public comment on the state’s new A-to-F system for grading schools. Bennett and his team made a presentation on that topic last month and fielded a few questions from legislators, but there was no input from the public.

The meeting starts at 1 p.m. It’s scheduled to be webcast at www.in.gov/legislative/2441.htm.

School turn-around legislation casts a wide net

How many Monroe County, Ind., residents know that Bloomington High School North, Bloomington High School South and Edgewood High School are failing schools that could be taken over by the state and possibly handed over to private school-management companies?

Probably not many. But that’s one of the consequences of House Bill 1479, one of the education and labor bills that caused Indiana House Democrats to dash to Illinois two weeks ago rather than let the bills become law without public awareness.

The legislation allows for a school that spends five straight years in one of Indiana’s two lowest performance categories to be closed, merged with another school or converted to a “turnaround academy.” Turnaround academies could be handed over to “special management teams,” possibly private businesses, selected by the State Board of Education.

Current law prescribes state intervention if a school spends more than five years in the lowest performance category under the state school accountability law. HB 1479 expands that to the two lowest categories – previously called “academic watch” and “probation” but about to be changed to letter grades, D and F.

As Vic Smith explains on the Indiana Coalition for Public Education website, the categories are set up in a way that makes it very difficult for a high school to get an A, B or C. Continue reading