Of all the classroom seats available in K-12 schools in Marion County, just under half were rated “high quality” in a report released Wednesday.
The report was issued by IFF, a Chicago-based lender and consultant for not-for-profits that has conducted similar analyses in six other cities.
The study examined public, charter and private schools in Marion County, which collectively enroll nearly 154,000 students. Of those students, 75,300—or 49 percent—were classified as high-quality.
IFF defined as “high quality” all classroom seats that are located in schools that received a grade of A or B from the Indiana Department of Education.
The study will serve as the basis of a plan by Mayor Greg Ballard’s office and The Mind Trust, an education reform group, to give grants to help successful schools replicate into additional locations. Some community groups also plan to use the report to focus their efforts in areas with the highest concentration of struggling schools.
“Too many neighborhood leaders have outdated or incomplete information about the schools serving their neighborhoods, and this study will help these leaders be more accurate in getting directly involved in improving educational options for neighborhood kids,” wrote Bill Taft, executive director of LISC-Indianapolis, a community group that helped initiate the IFF study, in an e-mail.
The study identified 11 zip codes within Marion County with acute shortages of A and B schools. These so-called “Priority Areas” were spread throughout the county, with only four falling within the Indianapolis Public Schools district that has received the most attention for having struggling schools.
Wayne Township had two zip codes identified as “Priority Areas.” Decatur, Perry, Pike, Warren and Washington townships all had one zip code flagged for an acute shortage of high-quality schools.
“The MSD. of Wayne Township has worked with IFF on this study to ensure that all of our students have the very best opportunities to a quality education,” wrote Jeff Butts, superintendent of the Wayne Township schools, in an e-mail. “We look forward to continued work with IFF to facilitate non-profit partnerships with our schools and district that will provide additional resources and opportunities for our students success."
The A-F grades developed by the Indiana Department of Education have been highly controversial among educators, and the state Legislature is now debating changes to how they are calculated.
Elementary and middle schools were deemed high-quality if 80 percent of their students passed both the math and reading portions of the state standardized test and if students’ scores grew faster than the statewide average. High schools were deemed high-quality if 70 percent of their students passed the state standardized math and English tests and if 25 percent of students demonstrated college- or career-readiness
“While there has been a lot of debate around the effectiveness of the the State A-F school ranking system the study draws from, its results reflect similar conclusions parents have formed about Indy's schools,” Taft wrote. “Neighborhood leaders, Realtors, and community development leaders have been saying for decades that school quality has been a powerful driver of residential flight from Marion County, and the study graphically illustrates this challenge.”
Taft added, however, that several areas of downtown Indianapolis showed an adequate amount of high-quality classroom seats.
Ballard’s staff have grown concerned about the flight of middle- and upper-income families with school-aged children from Marion County. That concern led them to develop the Neighborhoods of Educational Opportunity plan, which would provide a blueprint to help educational reform groups and school districts launch as many as 70 new schools to create 30,000 new “high-quality” seats.
If the plan comes to fruition, both charter schools and traditional school districts could apply to the Mind Trust's charter school incubator for funding and help to launch new schools. Ballard’s staff has applied for a grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies to flesh out the details of the plan.
"We aspire to ensure that every child in every neighborhood has access to a seat in a high-performing school," wrote Jason Kloth, Ballard's deputy mayor of education, in an e-mail. "We’re eager to work with school districts, charter schools and private schools to ensure this reality for children and families in our community.”