State Board of Ed wants to expand takeover experiment

The State of Indiana took over the five “persistently failing” schools in 2011 and handed their operation over to charter school operators. How has that worked out?

Four of the schools still got Fs in the 2013-14 school grades that were released this fall. One inched up to a D. This is after two full years of the turnaround operators being in charge and promising results.

The state takeover was profoundly disruptive to children and to staff. In Indianapolis, lots of students initially left the schools. Turnaround operators reaped a windfall in state funding for children who no longer attended. For a time, they also picked up the lion’s share of School Improvement Grants.

Even so, one of the turnaround operators, Tindley Accelerated Schools, is now bailing on its agreement to run Arlington High School, sending it back to Indianapolis Public Schools. Another, Edison Learning, appears to be emerging from a nasty fight with Gary Community Schools over who’s responsible for what at Roosevelt Academy.

It looks a whole lot like the turnaround experiment, not the schools, has been a failure.

But the State Board of Education’s response is to decide Indiana needs more state takeover, not less. Under current law, the state can take over a school after six consecutive years of F grades. Wednesday, the board proposed changing the law to allow takeover after four straight years of Ds or Fs.

That just doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.

State takeover of ‘failing’ schools: Why just high schools?

Here’s a question that rarely seems to be asked about the impending state takeover of Indiana’s chronically low-performing schools: Why is it that, of 18 public schools at risk of being taken over by the State Board of Education, 17 are high schools?

Have all the bad K-12 teachers somehow gravitated to the upper grades? Is there something about high schools that just attracts lousy leaders? Are students who did just fine in elementary school and middle school giving up when they hit ninth grade?

Or is it possible that there’s something fundamentally wrong with Indiana’s system for determining which schools are “failing”?

Consider this: There are 1,129 public elementary schools in Indiana, along with 348 public middle schools and junior high schools and 385 public high schools. None of those elementary schools has been designated for five consecutive years for “probation,” the lowest category in Indiana’s Public Law 221 accountability system and the trigger for state takeover. Only one middle school has.

But 17 high schools – about 1 in 20 – have been in the lowest category for five consecutive years.

In 2009-10, 49 percent of Indiana high schools fell into the probation category. That compares with 8 percent of middle schools and 4 percent of elementary schools.

PL 221 categories are based on two criteria: the percent of students who pass ISTEP-Plus exams and the school’s year-to-year improvement in ISTEP passing rates. And for high schools, especially, that’s a questionable gauge of effectiveness.

In elementary and middle schools, all students in grades 3-8 take annual state exams in math and language arts. With a concerted effort, those schools will occasionally make enough improvement to escape a designation of probation.

But in high schools, it’s different. Continue reading