EDITORIAL: Charter grants beckon big education ideas

It often takes bold action to produce meaningful results. That makes us hopeful that a bold move by The Mind Trust will make a difference in the lives of public-school students in Indianapolis for years to come.

As IBJ reported last week, the locally based education innovation group is laying plans to hand out up to five $1 million grants next June to teams of educational entrepreneurs who would use the money to develop and launch innovative charter schools here.

The grants would bankroll the development of schools effective enough to push the most disadvantaged students to achieve at high levels, graduate from high school, and earn post-secondary degrees.

Charters, which are public schools that operate outside the constraints of school districts and certain government regulations, already exist here, of course. But the most successful ones in the city aren’t successful enough and aren’t easily replicated. The idea of the grants is to create a successful charter school model that can be.

Toward that end, The Mind Trust is also forming a charter schools incubator to help the startup teams that win the grants get their schools up and running.

The grant money, almost $4 million of which is already in hand, is coming from the city of Indianapolis and the Eli Lilly and Company Foundation, among others. The size of the grants has gotten the attention of school innovators in other parts of the country and has raised optimism that Indianapolis can create charter schools as successful as highly regarded charters in Houston, New York and other cities.

The grant program and incubator, along with state reforms passed last spring, should further enhance Indiana’s growing reputation as a laboratory for school innovation.

We applaud The Mind Trust’s emphasis on disadvantaged students.

Urban districts, such as Indianapolis Public Schools, are often compared unfairly to wealthier districts where students arrive well-fed and ready to learn. We understand that inequity and agree that urban schools face their own unique challenges.

But IPS, with its entrenched school board and suspect culture, has had years to confront those challenges and has little to show for it. There are pockets of excellence in the district, but there’s little to suggest a significant reversal of the district’s decades-long decline caused by desegregation turmoil, the loss of autonomy in individual schools, and negative societal trends.

There’s no question the district’s challenges are immense, but acknowledging such doesn’t help today’s kids. The students who remain in IPS can’t wait for significant change. They need it as quickly as possible.

That’s where The Mind Trust and its program come in. If a meaningful turnaround in public education is going to happen here, it’s going to come from the fresh ideas and innovative thinking the grants are trying to leverage. Getting the desired results won’t be easy, but the odds improve when groups such as The Mind Trust make their bold moves.•


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