Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard wants to launch a new kind of charter school that would allow students to earn both high school and college credentials in fields with lots of jobs and good wages.
The school, which the mayor’s staff calls Indianapolis Polytechnic, would serve students in grades 9-12 and then up to two years in postsecondary programs.
The goal of the school is to train more Indianapolis residents for middle- and high-skill jobs where, right now, workers are few and wages are attractive.
Jason Kloth, Ballard’s deputy mayor for education, said the school would seek employer input and help, and would try to train students for careers that pay no less than $30,000 a year.
“You’re talking about a fundamentally different trajectory for students,” Kloth said. “It’s not only going to change the trajectory of their lives, but it’s also going to fundamentally change the trajectory of the city.”
Ballard referred to the “polytechnic model” in his State of the City speech on Feb. 27, which focused heavily on solving the city’s fiscal challenges by increasing both the number of Marion County residents and their incomes.
The polytechnic model has been getting attention around the nation. Last fall, President Obama visited Brooklyn Polytechnic, which launched in 2011. And last month, Time magazine ran a major story about Brooklyn Polytechnic under the headline, “The School That is Changing Education in America.”
Ballard’s staff is trying to secure grant funding to flesh out the details of the school, including which organization would operate it and which state universities would provide the postsecondary training.
Some of those details could come as early as this month.
Indianapolis Polytechnic would try to rectify differences between the skills Hoosier students are receiving in school and the skills employers need.
A 2010 report by the National Skills Coalition noted that 54 percent of all Indiana jobs require mid-level skills—like those earned in one-year and two-year postsecondary programs. But only 47 percent of Hoosiers have such qualifications.
Meanwhile, 24 percent have a high school education or less, even though only 20 percent of jobs in the state call for those lower-level skills.
“Unemployment isn’t only being driven by a lack of jobs. It’s also being driven by a misalignment with the supply of workers,” Kloth said.
That misalignment comes partly because state funding for vocational and career education doesn’t factor in future earnings potential, Kloth said. Traditional K-12 schools get the same amount of funding for providing programs in cosmetology as they do for computers.
On top of that, it’s often costlier for a school to purchase the latest equipment and hire instructors with up-to-date skills in fields like information technology and advanced manufacturing.
Kloth hopes Indianapolis Polytechnic solves those challenges by emphasizing programs that have high earnings potential and then signing up employers to help provide equipment and instructors.
“We live in an information age,” he said. “We need an information-age educational infrastructure.”
Kloth said one model for the school is a program the Wayne Township schools have been running with Carrier Corp., in which Carrier provides equipment and support, then often hires graduates directly from the program.
Other similar programs are the training facilities operated by unionized tradesmen, such as ironworkers and electricians.
Derek Redelman, an education lobbyist for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, loves the Indianapolis Polytechnic concept. He said some of the career centers run by traditional K-12 high schools around the state have done a great job working with employers to make vocational training relevant. But others have not.
“I am certain that employers would be very interested as long as it could be demonstrated to them that the program was going to have the rigor and relevance to make those kids employable,” Redelman said. “Our employers are starving, frankly, for workers that can come in day one and start doing those jobs.”
But Indianapolis Polytechnic could create funding challenges for the state and other K-12 schools, noted Sen. Luke Kenley, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Indiana’s charter school law never was designed to fund postsecondary education. So the Legislature might have to separate funding for polytechnic schools.
Kenley did the same thing with dropout recovery schools that used the charter law to obtain state funding for educating adults without high school degrees.
Kloth said the polytechnic school could also launch in partnership with a traditional school district.
Kenley said he’ll have to be convinced there is a need for doing postsecondary education in a K-12-like setting, rather than just having students go to the higher education institutions that already exist.
“My first sense is, we have an Ivy Tech facility right here in Indianapolis. Why can’t they go to Ivy Tech?” Kenley said. “Part of becoming an adult is learning to deal with different environments.”
Kloth said Indiana needs to consider new ways of structuring education.
“This is complex,” he said. “It requires us rethinking the way we deliver education.”•