Purdue to launch its own charter school in Indianapolis

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Purdue University announced plans Thursday to open a charter school in downtown Indianapolis that will provide a curriculum heavy on science and math and, for its graduates, guaranteed admission to Purdue.

If it works, Purdue Polytechnic Indianapolis High School could be replicated in some of the eight other cities around the state where Purdue operates polytechnic centers.

Purdue President Mitch Daniels announced the school at a press conference in Indianapolis Thursday afternoon.

“Our two basic objectives are to offer an alternative learning environment designed to better prepare students for today’s workplace and to increase significantly the unacceptably low number of Indianapolis Public School students who are qualified to succeed at Purdue,” Daniels said in a prepared statement before the news conference.

The school won’t be ready to open until August 2017. Details on the number of students the charter school would enroll or where it will be located were not immediately available.

Indianapolis-based USA Funds, which guarantees federal student loans, has provided a $500,000 planning grant to help leaders from Purdue, the city of Indianapolis and EmployIndy work out the details of the school.

The idea of a polytechnic charter school in Indianapolis that worked closely with employers and moved students directly into college programs was first floated by Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard’s staff in February 2014. His staff wanted a school that would rectify differences between the skills Hoosier students are receiving in school and the skills employers need.

“Unemployment isn’t only being driven by a lack of jobs. It’s also being driven by a misalignment with the supply of workers,” Ballard’s deputy mayor of education, Jason Kloth, said at the time. Kloth is leaving the mayor’s office on Friday to head a new initiative at the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership focused on that issue.

Purdue faculty, with input from employers, will develop the charter school’s curriculum as a blend of secondary and collegiate courses.

The program will be similar to what Purdue is now offering at its West Lafayette campus’ Purdue Polytechnic Institute, which until May was known as the Purdue College of Technology. The institute integrates humanities instruction with technical studies with lots of learn-by-doing projects and experiences.

The Purdue charter school would have open enrollment for high school students. In grades nine and 10, its students would focus on problem-solving and project-based learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Students entering 11th grade would select a specific pathway to master skills, earn college credit and industry credentials. In the 12th grade, students would complete an internship in their chosen pathway.

“Our partners in industry will be vital, working with our faculty to develop the academic model, and to define and refine the competencies students must master to succeed in the 21st century economy,” said Gary Bertoline, dean of the Purdue Polytechnic Institute. “Graduates will have the skills to meet the evolving needs of industry and with dual credits for continued postsecondary education, as well as industry-recognized credentials and mastery in a defined high-tech pathway.”

As part of the program, Purdue will provide programs that help students transition from high school to college.

Rick Hess, an education policy scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C., praised the new charter school and its focus on the science, math, engineering and technology fields, or STEM.

“It’s hard to picture a more intriguing development than a slew of Purdue-branded STEM schools educating interested students across Indiana,” Hess wrote in a blog post on Thursday. “Rather than work to ‘reform’ existing schools or partner with them to do a little cosmetic surgery on an existing charter school model, Purdue is leveraging its strength in order to prepare underserved students for Purdue, similar universities, or rewarding careers.”

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