A slight majority of more than 7,000 residents in the Indianapolis Public Schools district are dissatisfied with the school system, according to surveys conducted in late summer by a coalition of community groups, including IPS itself.
Fifty-two percent of respondents gave IPS a score of 6 or lower on a 10-point scale, which the survey sponsors counted as being “dissatisfied stakeholders.” The remaining 48 percent of respondents were categorized as satisfied or enthusiastic about the school system.
The trouble for IPS is that there is a large gap between the number of people dissatisfied and those known as “loyal enthusiasts,” who gave the district scores of 9 or 10. This so-called “net promoter score”—used in many for-profit industries—registers at minus-24 for IPS.
Stand for Children, the group that helped coordinate the survey and the write-up of its results, cautioned against reading too much into the stakeholder satisfaction scores.
“On a number of occasions, stakeholders indicated their responses are dependent on which IPS school was being discussed, with strong support for some schools and little support for others,” wrote Stand for Children staff members in a report on the survey results, titled “What’s Possible?,” which was released Tuesday at noon.
The report also quantified overwhelming support for such things as effective teachers and principals; school-level decision making; school environments that are safe, positive and culturally responsive; expanded extracurricular programs; greater parental involvement; and more school-community partnerships.
The only category that received slightly less than 90-percent support was the idea of replacing underperforming schools with better options. That idea is central to an IPS overhaul proposed in December by The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based education reform group.
“The feedback gathered shows there is promising consensus on the need for key elements to improve the quality of education in our city,” said David Harris, CEO of The Mind Trust, in a prepared statement. He specifically cited support in the survey for greater access to preschool, school-level decision making; excellent teachers and school leaders; and strong neighborhood schools.
Also, the survey quizzed IPS residents on funding options for preschool for 4-year-olds. Nearly 80 percent support seeking state funding for preschool, but 65 percent also favor IPS shifting around funds to pay for preschool. Only 44 percent favored a local property tax increase to fund preschool.
“This report is extensive in detailing the community’s initial stated priorities for schools,” said Mayor Greg Ballard, in a prepared statement. “We want to be able to use it moving forward as we continue the discussion and work together on improving education in our community.”
The survey was supported by Ballard, IPS and seven other community groups: Greater Indianapolis NAACP, Indianapolis Urban League, La Plaza, The Mind Trust, Stand for Children, UNCF and United Way of Central Indiana.
The survey did reveal that lack of enthusiasm for IPS is fairly widespread in the district, which may be a factor contributing to continued declines in district enrollment and continued demand for the growing number of charter schools that are competing with IPS for students. The district has 30,100 students, down by 1,500 from the previous year.
In only two out of 17 ZIP codes that are part of the IPS district did “loyal enthusiasts” outnumber “dissatisfied stakeholders.” Among ethnic groups, only African Americans and Native Americans had more loyalists than dissatisfied stakeholders.
IPS Superintendent Eugene White dismissed the “net promoter score" for IPS because the survey included numerous people who have no connection at all with IPS, other than living within its district, he said.
He also noted that those who identified themselves as school parents or grandparents did not actually say they have children in IPS schools.
“It was ambiguous; it really didn’t mean anything. It was almost skewed to be negative,” White said. “I really think it was somewhat misleading, and I didn’t like that.”
White did say IPS is starting to do some satisfaction surveys internally for some of its programs. And he would welcome a similar survey given to all IPS parents or students.
“I’d like to have parents, people who have had students in the district in the last eight years, to respond,” White said. “I don’t want people reading the newspaper and going by that perception. There are many, many people who are very, very pleased at IPS.”