Mind Trust calls for decentralizing IPS district

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By gutting its central office, Indianapolis Public Schools could free up $188 million a year to provide universal preschool, to pay key teachers more than $100,000 a year and to transform itself into a network of autonomous “opportunity” schools.

That’s the vision of a new report issued Sunday by the Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based education reform group. The report, prepared for the Indiana Department of Education, details the sweeping changes the organization views as necessary to fully reverse decades of decline in the district.

And to make it happen, the Mind Trust says the state Legislature should yank control of the district from the IPS school board and hand it to Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard.

“We can do all of these investments under the current ledger,” said Mind Trust CEO David Harris. “We believe under our plan, really, everybody benefits.”

The trickiest part of the plan may be politics. Ballard has been cool to the idea of taking responsibility for IPS, arguing that it is incongruous for the mayor of the entire city to control just one of its numerous school districts.

Mind Trust officials said they do not expect there to be a concerted push for mayoral control in the 2012 legislative session—in spite of the fact that the big Republican majorities that passed sweeping education reforms earlier this year are assured for only one more year. Rather, they said the next thing to be done is to hold a “community conversation” to build support for the idea.

"We don't think it is an issue that's ripe for 2012," said Mark Miles, CEO of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership and a Mind Trust board member. "This is a significant change for public education in the Indianapolis community. We think it requires a public dialogue."

In a prepared statement, Ballard reacted positively to the Mind Trust’s report but stopped short of endorsing it.

“The Mind Trust report offers some very interesting ideas, such as the Opportunity Schools, that merit further study,” Ballard said. “It is my sincere hope this report jumpstarts a much-needed discussion about the future of education in our community.”

The Mind Trust, which was paid $680,000 to develop the report, delivered it the Indiana Department of Education on Thursday. In August, the state identified six IPS schools as failing, electing to give control of four of them to private operators. Only one other district in the state, Gary Community Schools, has had a school seized by the state.

IPS Superintendent Eugene White, through his administrative assistant, declined to comment on the report until after he had read it.

The Mind Trust’s report rests on the premise that far too little of IPS’ nearly $540 million annual budget—just 41 percent—flows down into the schools, which spend the dollars more efficiently. According to the plan, giving schools more control would free up $18.5 million per year for new initiatives, including $14 million to pay for preschool for all 4-year-olds in the IPS district and $2.5 million to attract and develop talented teachers.

In addition, the Mind Trust calls for IPS to set high-performance standards to create a new category, called Opportunity Schools. Existing IPS schools—and perhaps even public charters not currently under the district’s control—could apply to IPS to be authorized as an Opportunity School.

If approved, such schools would be freed from most district policies and would have millions of dollars now controlled by the central office accessible to the school’s principal. Administrators at the individual school level could use the money to recruit star teachers with higher salaries, to purchase education services from outside vendors or to hire the IPS central office for some services.

But since most IPS schools are not yet ready for this kind of autonomy right now, the Mind Trust also calls for IPS to hire several “transformation directors” who would work to help prepare them to become Opportunity Schools.

Opportunity Schools could set themselves up to draw from a specific neighborhood or from the entire district (as IPS magnet schools do now). But either way, they would be responsible for recruiting students each year—and their funding would hinge entirely on how many students they signed up.

“Instead of trying yet again to ‘fix the school system,’ let’s unleash the talent and creativity of our best educators to create schools that we know will help students learn,” Harris wrote in a foreword to the Mind Trust’s 155-page report. It was prepared by North Carolina-based Public Impact, a not-for-profit education policy group.

Staffing at the IPS central office would shrink from 513 to just 65, as more of those administrative positions moved to the school level. The central office staff would still handle bond sales and other financing activities, would oversee special education and would operate a districtwide enrollment system.

The district also could offer transportation and purchasing services to the individual schools, but it would have to compete with outside vendors who might sell similar services to the schools.

And the central office would launch an effort to spawn new schools, working to recruit education entrepreneurs to start them. Those new schools would replace existing schools that would be shut down if they fail to make the improvements necessary to become Opportunity Schools,

Within six to eight years of launching the plan, the Mind Trust envisions all IPS schools qualifying as Opportunity Schools.

Out of 61 schools IPS operates, just six have students whose pass rates on the state-standardized ISTEP tests exceed the state average. Overall, only 43 percent of IPS students passed both the math and English portions of the ISTEP test in 2010, compared with a statewide average of 71 percent.

“We must confront the truth: The system is broken,” the Mind Trust report stated. “Much of the best work happens only when talented educators find a way to work around the bureaucracy.”


  • No Jews
    Sorry we are already screwed up enough under the current Republican.
  • Give me a break
    Anything coming out of the mouth of conservatives and their think tanks, is never in the best interest of anyone except capitalists.
  • One Name
    • Mitch's actions are the same for middle class workers

      Lets look at the same story, but not about IPS schools but about those who try and work in the state. Mitch's actions say you are not good enough and we need to import labor from out-of-the country. You are failing Americans who are just not good enough to do the jobs for the little money business wants to pay. Mitch wants his business friends to pay very low wages. By cutting all the wages and all the taxes for school, we can do the jobs in Indiana and not outside the US. Mitch is saying the same about our schools. They cost too much for his business friends so he is saying how bad they are and cutting money so they can't improve. No, I don't believe the ISTEP scores, and you should not.

    • Mind Trust Gutting the Central Office
      So, Mind Trust thinks it can do a better job with 10% of the non-school based administrators that IPS has. I've always wondered what those IPS administrators do all day.
    • ISTEP Scores not as they seem
      Did you know that the ISTEP is set on a curve, meaning that a certain percentage of students WILL fail, regardless of how truly well they do. Passing and failing is determined AFTER the students take the test and all the scores are evaluated to ensure that a certain percentage pass and a certain percentage fail. Hmmm.... If I were a teacher/student/parent/school/administrator I can imagine it would be quite frustrating not knowing, in advance, what benchmark to shoot for. And each year, with that pass/fail benchmark changing, are we really evaluating progress? Each year the benchmark changes, again based on the scores throughout the state. It's the most insane system for testing I've ever heard of. Give these folks a break and some standard to truly shoot for and measure success.
    • Just a Thought?
      We all can agree that something must be done about the educational system in this great city. And I agree with the idea of decentralizing the school system. Let the school innovate directly. It is a brilliant idea, especially if you can link it to a school voucher program. This can be a great way to promote school competitiveness within the city. I as a resident in this great city would like to offer few a thought to the architects of this proposal. What about community involvement Program?
      We need more community involvement, in order to make lasting change. Why not create a Community Promotion and Outreach Program? We can use local radio and television stations to reach out to community directly, and get those parents involved. Use our local media to promote parent, business, and organizations that support their local schools.
      We can get the kids involved by creating thing like a Marion County interschool academic competitions, offering reward that help improve the school in a tangible way. Things like new school books, computers, or playgrounds equipment. This will give kids a sense of pride within their school and community, while creating a better school for the kid that will come after.
      I could go on and on, but that is not my intention. My intention is to give light to possible solutions, instead of just speaking about the problems. And while everyone may not agree with my thoughts, I ask that you not only offer your criticism but also your solutions to the problem of community involvement.

      Thank You,
      John J. Craven

    • to Dupee
      IPS does not have a problem?? How can you even say that when less than 50% of the buget even gets to the schools. 57+% of the IPS budget go to administration factors and you don't think there is a problem with IPS? I see the problem now.
    • I just can't believe a study sponsered by Mitch
      Well, I guess I have seen Mitch's efforts to cut school cost for his corporate business owners. I can't believe the study. IPS does not have problems. The worthless parents in IPS are problems. Government policy that rewards worthless parents and pushes rules upon public schools (the Mitch's charters schools don't have to follow), are the problem. And lets look at the charter schools. Don't we have one closing it's doors at the end of this month, but keeping the money? Are not these charter schools failing just as highly when forced to take the students of worthless parents.

      Lets not give millions to those who donate to Mitch. Lets not believe what Mitch says. Lets think on our own about the IPS students and their parents.
    • No Title, It's Just a Comment
      When it comes to teaching children what they need to know to compete in the world, even well performing suburban schools are failing miserably. I guess we can blame that on the parents, too, because most of us do, after all, put up with it. American public education was once the envy of the world. Now, according to PISA, we're ranked 14th behind countries like South Korea, Iceland and Poland. It is myopic to think that IPS can be fixed, because the definition of "fixed" is to bring it up to suburban standards and suburban public education is every bit as broken as urban public education. The results speak for themselves.
    • Uh huh
      So let me get this straight. Paid 680k for a study confirming what everyone already knew? Of course IPS would have more "money" if it trimmed the fat. People have been saying that for years and years. You can create, magnet, opportunity, super schools it will not matter until the parents stress education in the home. If the parents do not are, neither will the children and no amount of money will fix that. Next, why would the voters willingly do away with their rights, that's pretty far out there. In the end if you need more money, you don't have to do a study, you just have to trim the bloated IPS administration fat, which no one wants to do.

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