Five Indiana schools are facing state takeover this fall, after failing to make the grade for a number of academic years. The takeovers would be the first under a state law enacted in 1999. This action has been proposed to help revamp the under-achieving schools rather than closing them completely – another option allowed by law. The state’s decision is not without its share of controversy, and lawmakers who made the decision may find they are in for more than they bargained for with the school districts.
The Wheels in Motion
According to a report at WBEZ, the Superintendent of Public Instruction for the state of Indiana, Tony Bennett, asked the State Board of Education to take over the troubled schools located in Indianapolis and Gary. Bennett said the decision did not come easy, and it was only made after the schools had been on academic probation for five years and failed to bring their standards up to par with the rest of the district.
“It’s a difficult decision,” Bennett stated when he made the announcement about the takeover of Roosevelt Career Technical Academy in Gary, Indiana. “But I can be very sad and forlorn; you can be very sad and forlorn or we can look at this as how I can begin the conversation. My interest is a new beginning for this school.”
Roosevelt is a high school that currently boasts about 1,600 Indiana high school students. It is the only school in Gary that has been recommended for the takeover. The other four Indianapolis schools are Arlington High School, Emma Donnan Middle School, Manual High School and Howe High School. Two other Indianapolis Public Schools have also been on probation: Broad Ripple Magnet High School for the Arts and Washington Community High School. However, the Indy Star reports that instead of takeovers for these two IPS schools, they will be paired with “lead partner” organizations to assist them with their specific needs.
Why a Takeover May be Necessary
While a takeover of the schools appears to be a drastic step, many believe it is the only way to bring these consistently under-performing schools up to the state standard. Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard said that he supports the decision and called it a “bold step” at WBEZ.
“These schools have been failing for many years,” Ballard added.
A mother of an IPS student agrees that the takeover might be the best solution. She told WTHR, “I think it’s better off. My youngest is at Manual and says half the teachers didn’t even help him half the time.”
How the Takeover will Work
The proposal made by Bennett will result in outside management firms, hired by the state, to come in and assess the schools in question for the first year. At the end of the assessment, the organizations will take full control of the operation of the schools. These groups would receive the per-pupil funding allotted to the school to budget and spend as they see fit. The first year would consist of a “transitional” contract, followed by a four-year contract with stipulations of specific benchmarks that must be met.
Charter Schools USA would be responsible for running Donnan, Howe and Manual. This company already operates 29 charter schools in Florida, Georgia and Louisiana. Arlington would be run by an Indiana-based company, EdPower. This organization also operates Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School in Indianapolis. Roosevelt would be run by a New York-based company known as Edison Learning, which operates additional schools on the East Coast and in Chicago.
The initial review over the first year would be an intense one, focused on customizing solutions to each school’s individual situation. Jim Larson, director of school turnaround and improvement for the Department of Education, told WBEZ, “This is much more than just, ‘Go in there, collect some data, write a report, and tell us what you’re going to do better. All these schools are at different places.”
Opposition to the Takeover Plan
Not everyone is pleased with the idea of a state takeover of Indiana schools. The current IPS superintendent Dr. Eugene White told WIBC that the idea of a takeover was unfair and has encouraged the school board to take action against such a decision. The IPS school board has recently met and voted to file suit against the state of Indiana if they go through with their takeover plans. The grounds for the suit would be that four of the schools currently on probation shouldn’t even be in that position at this time.
“Those four schools should not have any restrictions on them, and they should be off probation,” Dr. White stated at a recent board meeting. “I don’t think we are going to get a fair objective review of that from the IDOE. We want a third opinion. We don’t believe these schools were treated fairly.”
Bennett responded to White’s arguments by stating that the criteria used to evaluate schools was the same across the board. Of the 140 schools evaluated, including 20 that were on probation, these were the only schools that did not show sufficient progress to avoid the takeover option.
“These are the same metrics we have had for many years,” Bennett was reported saying in the Indy Star. “I think the way we work ourselves out of this problem is by thinking about how we educate, not how we litigate.”
Plans for the takeover are slated to begin during the upcoming academic school year. However, if the Indianapolis Public School district takes legal action against the state, the process may be delayed.