The Mind Trust in
Indianapolis released a plan in December that
proposes a bold and dramatic transformation of public education for that city 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 has 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
  • 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. Mind Trust CEO David
Harris told the Indianapolis
, “We need elected leadership of the community to embrace this
or we don’t think it’s going to happen.”

Indiana 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 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,
saying “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.

This piece orginally appeared on the Ohio Gadfly Daily.

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