A bold reform plan in Indianapolis looks to halt the status-quo of under achievement

The Mind Trust in Indianapolis released a plan
over the weekend that proposes a bold and dramatic transformation of
public education akin to what has taken place in New Orleans and New
York City. The plan, an amalgamation of some of the nation’s most
promising school reform strategies looks to transform Indianapolis
Public Schools (IPS) which have been chronically underperforming for
several years. The plan hopes to diminish a 20 percentage point
achievement gap between IPS students and the state in English and a
dismal 58 percent graduation rate.

The Mind Trust report observes that great schools across the country
share a set of core conditions that enable them to help all students
achieve. Among these core conditions are the freedom to build and manage
their own teams, refocus resources to meet actual student needs, hold
schools accountable for their results(and close those that don’t
perform), and create a system of school choice that empowers parents to
find schools that they want their children to attend.

In an attempt to halt the status-quo of under achievement among too many Indianapolis schools the Mind Trust proposed:

  • Downsizing the Indianapolis Public Schools district office while
    allocating resources to school level leaders. According to the plan the
    IPS central office would be reduced by about 450 jobs and its budget
    would be cut by $53 million, and these resources would flow to building
    level decision makers.
  • Giving high performing schools complete control over their staffing,
    budgets, and curriculum so building level decision makers can staff and
    run buildings as they see fit.
  • Uniting all public schools (district, magnet, and charter) under a new banner of quality called Opportunity Schools.
    Thus, creating a unified system of high-quality schools that would send
    a strong message to the community that educational excellence is the
    central goal of public education. Through this strategy the debate would
    shift from what type of school – district versus charter – to
    performance being the end all and be all. Schools that deliver would be
    encouraged to grow and expand their efforts while persistent
    underperformers would ultimately close and be replaced.
  • Building on the current efforts underway in Indianapolis, a
    significant teacher and school leader recruitment effort would work with
    Teach for America, The New Teacher Project, and the Woodrow Wilson
    Fellowship to bring a new generation of top talent to Indianapolis.
    Further, the Mind Trust would launch a charter incubator program that
    would seek to develop a new generation of homegrown school leadership
    talent and place them in Opportunity Schools.

The most controversial part of the reform plan relates to school
governance. The Mind Trust calls for neutering the role of the current
IPS school board, while turning governance over to a new five member
board appointed jointly by the mayor and the City-County Council. This
radical governance change would be a key to the plan’s success. The CEO
of Mind Trust, David Harris, told the Indianapolis Star, “We need elected leadership of the community to embrace this or we don’t think it’s going to happen.”

Indiana’s state superintendent Tony Bennett has expressed his full
support for the plan and committed $500,000 to cover most of the
$700,000 cost of the Mind Trust report. Both Republican and Democratic
lawmakers at the state house have expressed interest in the plan as
well. But, a key player, the Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard has taken a
more cautious and measured approach, while the current IPS school board
president has attacked the plan as unfair and outrageous as “Voters
need to have a voice in selecting board members.”

Mind Trust has presented a truly bold and audacious school reform
plan for Indianapolis to pursue. Sitting a mere 120 miles down
Interstate 70 in Dayton, Ohio, we are cheering for the Mind Trust and
its reform-minded allies. Not only will their success or failure
resonate in Indiana but also across the Midwest. Here’s rooting for
Indy.

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