school choice

Tindley dominates the list of top 10 Indianapolis charter schools for passing ISTEP

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
Kayla Davis works on a college admissions form. Stock photos for Chalkbeat stories. Photos made at Tindley Accelerated School, 3960 Meadows Dr, Indianapolis, Indiana. Nov. 22, 2013. (Photo by Alan Petersime)

More new charter schools took ISTEP for the first time in 2015 — and some of them did very well.

Among the ten charter schools in the city that had the highest percentage of students who passed the state exam last year, three were new schools whose students took ISTEP for the first time.

Two of those schools are affiliated with the Tindley Accelerated Schools charter school network — Tindley Renaissance and Tindley Summit academies — giving the network four spots among the top 10 charter schools in the city for ISTEP passing percentage.

In 2015, 26 charter schools in the city took the exam, up from 18 last year. The increase comes as the city has seen a dramatic increase in the total number of charter schools. All charter schools must take the annual exam but some schools initially enroll younger students who won’t take the exam until they enter third grade. The test is given to students in grades 3-8.

Chalkbeat in recent weeks highlighted the top 10 IPS schools that beat odds on the 2015 exam and the 10 IPS schools that ranked lowest for percent passing ISTEP. In the coming weeks, stories on the lowest scoring charter schools and the top and bottom ranked township and small city schools in Indianapolis will follow.

Tindley has had a difficult year outside the classroom. It has struggled financially after enrollment did not keep up with its ambitious expansion plan. Questions also were raised about the network’s spending and borrowing practices. That was followed by the resignation of CEO Marcus Robinson.

But when it came to ISTEP, the four Tindley schools where students took the exam all posted strong results. All four Tindley schools exceeded the 29 percent passing rate, which was the districtwide average Indianapolis Public Schools. Three Indianapolis charter schools also beat the state average. In all, 11 Indianapolis charter schools exceeded the IPS passing rate. But the majority — 15 charter schools — scored below the IPS average.

Paramount School of Excellence took over the top spot on the ranking in 2015 from the prior year’s No. 1, Tindley Collegiate Academy. Paramount, Tindley Collegiate and the Hoosier Academy of Indianapolis, a hybrid school with some courses taught online and some in classrooms, had passing rates above the statewide average of 52.5 percent. By comparison, four of the 59 IPS schools that took ISTEP scored above the state average. Here’s a look at the charter schools that landed in top ten:

Paramount School of Excellence

A community-based charter school on the East side of Indianapolis, Paramount School of Excellence has been rising up the ranking when it comes to passing ISTEP for several years.

Paramount School of Excellence was the top scoring charter school in Indianapolis on 2015.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Paramount School of Excellence was the top scoring charter school in Indianapolis on 2015.

Its 65.6 percent passing rate was well above  IPS and state averages and placed the school among the top 15 scorers in Marion County. That passing rate was better also than most township schools.

The school’s passing rate, like nearly all schools in the state last year, fell from the prior year. But it’s test score drop of 13 percentage points was smaller than the average 19 percentage point drop at schools around the state.

Paramount is known as the school where students grow fruits and vegetables and raise animals, and its scores have been on the rise. Its state grade improved to an A from a D in 2014 over three years.

The school serves about 653 students in grades K to 8. It is also known for its racial balance. About 48 percent of the school’s students are black, 28 percent are white, 14 percent are Hispanic and 10 percent are multiracial.

About 84 percent of the students are from families poor enough to qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. To qualify, a family of four must earn less than $44,863 annually. By comparison, at the average IPS school 71 percent of students are poor enough to qualify for meal assistance.

About 6 percent of students at Paramount are English language learners and 16 percent were in special education in 2014-15, the last year for which data was available. That’s compared to IPS where the 16 percent of students are English-language learners and 18 percent are in special education.

The school is locally managed and not part of any network.

Tindley Collegiate Academy

Tindley Collegiate Academy, on the northeast side of Indianapolis, is the network’s girls-only middle school.

Tindley Collegiate was one of four Tindley charter schools ranked in the city's top 10 for ISTEP scores.
PHOTO: Alan Petersime
Tindley Collegiate was one of four Tindley charter schools ranked in the city’s top 10 for ISTEP scores.

The school, which opened in 2013, serves 316 girls in grades 5-8. About 58 percent of its students passed ISTEP last year, down 27 percentage points from 2014. But its passing rate was still good enough to beat the IPS average and put the school in second place among city charter schools.

About 76 percent of Tindley Collegiate’s students come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

The school is 92 percent black, 5 percent multiracial, 1 percent white and 1 percent Hispanic, making it one of the city’s most racially isolated schools.

By comparison, IPS averages districtwide are 50 percent black, 20 percent white and 23 percent Hispanic.

About 13 percent of the school’s students are in special education classes and none were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

Tindley is a local charter school network based in Indianapolis that has opened all of its schools in and around the Avondale Meadows neighborhood.

Hoosier Academy of Indianapolis

The Indianapolis campus of this school is a hybrid through which students do some coursework online and some at the school. It serves about 240 students in grades K-8.

Hoosier Academy Indianapolis is a hybrid school at which some student work is done online and some at the school.
Hoosier Academy Indianapolis is a hybrid school at which some student work is done online and some at the school.

With nearly 58 percent of students passing ISTEP in 2015, the school beat the state average and appeared for the first time among the top 10 charter schools. Its passing rate fell 10 percentage points from the prior year, a smaller drop than most schools in the state.

Hoosier Academy Indianapolis serves a wealthier and less diverse student body than most charter schools in the city. Only about 20 percent of its students are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. About 72 percent of students are white, 22 percent are black and 2 percent are Hispanic.

About 19 percent of students are in special education and less than 1 percent are learning English as a new language.

The school has an online-only statewide sister school, Hoosier Academies Virtual School. Both are affiliated with K12, a national for-profit company that supports a nationwide network of online charter schools.

Irvington Community School

Located on the East side, Irvington Community School held steady on a tougher ISTEP.

Irvington Community School is one of the city's oldest charter schools.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Irvington Community School is one of the city’s oldest charter schools.

For several years, the school has scored just above or just below the state’s average passing rate for ISTEP. That was true again in 2015. With 51.7 percent of students passing, Irvington was just below the state average.

Irvington’s passing rate fell 19 percentage points from 2014, exactly the average drop for the typical Indiana school.

The large school serves 1,043 students in grades K to 12. It is less diverse than most Indianapolis charter schools. About 70 percent of students are white, 11 percent are black and 9 percent are Hispanic. About 62 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

Less than 2 percent of students are English-language learners and about 14 percent were in special education in 2014-15, the last year for which data was available.

The schools is locally managed and not part of any network.

Tindley Renaissance Academy

The Tindley network opened this elementary school in 2013. In its first year reporting ISTEP scores, Tindley Renaissance nearly reached the state average passing rate at 51 percent.

Tindley Renaissance Academy serves elementary school students.
PHOTO: Alan Petersime
Tindley Renaissance Academy serves elementary school students.

The school was the Tindley network’s first foray into elementary school grades  after starting with middle and high schools.

Tindley network schools have proven unusually adept at posting high passing rates quickly on ISTEP. Even most high-scoring charter schools have seen their scores rise more slowly over several years.

The school serves about 411 students on the city’s Northeast side. About 75 percent of students are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The school is 94 percent black, 2 percent Hispanic and less than 1 percent white.

About 10 percent of students were in special education and Tindley Renaissance had no English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

Tindley Preparatory Academy

The Tindley network’s first expansion was Tindley Preparatory Academy, an all-boys middle school that opened in 2012.

The Tindley Accelerated Schools network has two elementary schools, two middle schools and a high school.
PHOTO: Alan Petersime
The Tindley Accelerated Schools network has two elementary schools, two middle schools and a high school.

It posted a top 10 passing rate again among charter schools in 2015.

About 49 percent of students passed the exam, down 26 percentage points from the prior year. That was a bigger drop than the average Indiana school but not enough to knock Tindley Prep from the top 10.

The school, located in Northeast Indianapolis, has an enrollment of 227 students in grades 5-8, and about 76 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

The school is about 91 percent black, 5 percent multiracial, 1 percent white and 1 percent Hispanic.

About 19 percent of students were in special education and less than 1 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data was available.

Christel House Academy South

The south campus of Christel House was the network’s first school and is one of the oldest charter schools in the state. It has generally ranked high for percent of students passing ISTEP.

Christel House Academy South is one of the city's oldest charter schools.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Christel House Academy South is one of the city’s oldest charter schools.

In 2015, about 45.5 percent of students passed the test, down about 26 percentage points from the prior year. That was a bigger drop than the average Indiana school saw on the tougher ISTEP exam.

The school is part of a worldwide network of schools run by Indianapolis philanthropist Christel DeHaan. It has a sister school on the city’s West side and is also connected to high schools that work with at-risk students who have dropped out of other schools.

Christel House South appears to have moved passed controversies from recent years when it argued lower test scores and state grades it received were driven by errors in ISTEP scoring and unfair treatment that its leaders said affected the school and others with unusual grade configurations.

About 94 percent of students who attend the school are from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The school is very diverse, with about 46 percent of students who are Hispanic, 30 percent who are white and 16 percent who are black.

About 12 percent of students were in special education and 25 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data was available.

Avondale Meadows Academy

A consistently high-scoring school on ISTEP, Avondale Meadows Academy saw about 44 percent of students pass ISTEP in 2015.

Avondale Meadows is one of the city's highest scoring charter schools.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Avondale Meadows is one of the city’s highest scoring charter schools.

Formerly known as the Challenge Foundation Academy, the school’s passing rate dropped by 28 percentage points, a bigger drop than the average Indiana school on the new, harder ISTEP exam.

The school serves 469 students in grades K to 5. It is located close to several Tindley Accelerated Schools in the Northeast Indianapolis neighborhood known as Avondale Meadows. It is part of a fledgling local charter school network, with a sister school opening in 2014 north of downtown known as Visions Academy, but is no longer affiliated with the Challenge Foundation.

About 70 percent of students qualify for free or reduced price lunch. The school is about 95 percent black, 3 percent multiracial and 2 percent white.

About 14 percent of students were in special education in 2014-15, the last year for which data were available.

Tindley Summit Academy

Another recently opened school that was part of the rapid expansion of the Tindley Accelerated Schools network, Tindley Summit Academy opened in 2014 and serves students in grades K to 4.

065_Chalkbeat_Selects
Tindley Summit is one of two charter schools in the Tindley network that reported scores for the first time in 2015 and ranked in the city’s top 10.

About 44 percent of students passed ISTEP in 2015, which was the first year the school reported scores.

The school is part of cluster of high-scoring Tindley schools located on the city’s Northeast side.

Tindley Summit serves 292 students.

About 78 percent of students come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

The school is 90 percent black, 5 percent Hispanic and 1 percent white.

About 10 percent of students were in special education and 4 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data was available.

Phalen Leadership Academy

Phalen Leadership is the flagship school for an emerging charter school network based in Indianapolis run by Earl Martin Phalen. In its first year reporting ISTEP scores in 2015, the school saw about 39 percent of students pass ISTEP and made the city’s top 10 list for charter school test performance.

Phalen Leadership Academy was founded by Earl Martin Phalen, the inventor of the SummerAdvantage program.
PHOTO: Hayleigh Colombo
Phalen Leadership Academy was founded by Earl Martin Phalen, the inventor of the SummerAdvantage program.

Phalen, a one-time foster child and former Harvard Law School classmate of President Obama, came to Indiana in 2009 after being selected as a Mind Trust “education entrepreneur fellow.”

From that fellowship, Phalen invented Summer Advantage, a program that aims to help low income children advance, rather than backslide, during summer break. Building on the success of that program, he launched the Phalen Leadership Academy and the charter network now also operates IPS School 103 under a contract with the district.

The school is located on the North side of downtown and serves 325 students in grades K to 4. About 77 percent of students are from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced price lunch.

The school is 91 percent black, 4 percent white and 1 percent Hispanic. About 5 percent of students were in special education and less than 1 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

Other charter schools exceeding the IPS district average:

Southeast Neighborhood School of Excellence. SENSE fell out of the top 10, but the school’s 31 percent passing rate was higher than the IPS average. It was the only other Indianapolis charter school with a passing rate above the district’s rate. It’s passing rate fell by 24 percentage points from the prior year.

voices of the vote

Meet Denver teachers who voted yes to a strike, no to a strike — and just aren’t sure

PHOTO: PHOTO: Andy Cross/The Denver Post
Skinner Middle School math teacher Peter English walks out of the Riverside Baptist Church with his son, Landon, left, and daughter Brooke strapped to his chest after voting on whether to go on strike ()

Throughout the day, the parking lot of Riverside Baptist Church filled up as Denver teachers made their way into a meeting organized by their union, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association.  

Months of negotiations that failed to produce a deal between top leaders of Denver Public Schools and the union had given way to individual teachers facing a choice: To strike or not?

Along with reporting the news of the day — which you can read about here — Chalkbeat spent time visiting with teachers to get a sense of what was shaping their decision-making.

Most teachers we spoke with, both in depth and in passing, said they voted “yes” to strike. Union officials have said two-thirds of those who vote Saturday and in a second session Tuesday must sign off on a strike for it to proceed, and the prevailing wisdom among teachers we interviewed was that support is strong.

The decision, though, is far from black and white for many teachers, regardless of where they ultimately land.

Here are the stories of three teachers, all at different places:

Krista Skuce, Slavens K-8 school: Yes to strike

At the urging of teachers and parents, Slavens K-8 students turned out early on a few recent mornings to show support for their teachers. They wore red in solidarity and posed for pictures.

They also brought questions. “Why are you doing this?” was one.

Krista Skuce, a physical education teacher and 14-year Denver Public Schools employee, would tell students that she lives 40 minutes from the school because she can’t afford to live in Denver.

Krista Skuce

But there is more to her story. Her spouse, she said, is no longer able to work, beset by medical issues, unable to draw disability benefits, and in need of costly care including massage therapy, chiropractic appointments, neuromuscular therapies, and more.  

At the same time, Skuce said her pay “doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.” So she hustles, earning extra pay by driving across town to coach softball and basketball.

Skuce, like many teachers who stopped to talk about their votes on Saturday, believes the district can do more to boost teachers’ base pay — before bonuses and incentives.  

She said her salary has only increased $4,000 or $5,000 in the past 14 years, even though she has been teaching 27 years, has a master’s degree, and is National Board Certified.

Skuce said she knows that by voting to strike, she could very well end up taking money out of her own bank account. Striking teachers don’t get paychecks.

“I am hoping the district and the DCTA do the right thing and recognize the fact that there are some people here who are on the edge,” she said. “We are on the edge emotionally, financially. We know these are good people. And I think teachers are people who wake up every morning with forgiveness.

“You have to take a stand and say what you are for at some point in time in your life — and this is it,” she said. “I’m willing to do it, scary or not.”  

Jason Clymer, John F. Kennedy High School: No to strike

An English teacher at John F. Kennedy High School, Jason Clymer stands with his fellow union members in the belief teachers aren’t paid enough. He finds fault with what is asked of teachers through LEAP, the district’s growth and performance system for teachers.

“Teachers at my school feel extremely micromanaged and can’t catch a breath,” he said.  

But in the end, after being one of the first teachers in the door Saturday and attending an information session, Clymer said he voted against the strike.

“Going on strike is very hard,” said Clymer, whose wife works in human resources for the district’s central office. “And I think the agreement DPS came to was close enough.”

Clymer questioned picking a fight now because of the limited scope of the negotiations. That would be the current agreement governing ProComp, the pay system that provides teachers one-time bonuses for things like teaching in a high-poverty school, getting strong evaluations, having students who earn high test scores, or teaching in a high-performing school.

He said he’d like to save some political leverage to focus on other issues covered by the district’s main contract with the union.

“It’s really unfortunate these things can’t all be negotiated together,” he said. “If the district came out and said, ‘We want to give you more money, not as much as you like, but we want to devote more to things like mental health services,’ I really think that would be a winning argument.”

In opposing a strike, Clymer said that he did not want to divide his fellow teachers

“Although I voted no, I believe in the union,” he said. “And if the union voted to strike, I will absolutely support the union.”

Paula Zendle, Denver Green School: Undecided about strike

Paula Zendle is dreading the moment that is appearing increasingly likely: standing before her students at the Denver Green School and explaining why she won’t be there to teach them.

“I tell them constantly, ‘Don’t miss school, don’t miss school. Don’t be absent, don’t be absent, don’t be absent,’” said Zendle, her eyes welling up with tears as she waited on a friend. “I have been fighting to avoid a strike. I hate this. It’s utterly and totally agonizing to me.”

Paula Zendle

Zendle said she left a career in the corporate world for the classroom and has been teaching eight years. She teaches English language acquisition and Spanish at the Green School, a popular and highly-rated middle school option in a district that celebrates choice.

 Zendle said she has done her research and written to the district’s chief financial officer. What bothers her is a system she believes rewards younger teachers and underpays teachers in terms of the cost of living.  

The average Denver teacher currently earns about $51,000 in base pay and $57,000 with incentives, according to data from the state education department and the district. That’s less than teachers in districts like Boulder Valley, Cherry Creek, and Littleton.

District officials have agreed to put $20 million more into teacher compensation and defended their most recent offer on Saturday as “compelling.”

For Zendle, the prospect of facing her students — and that she works in a supportive school environment — is contributing to her struggle in deciding whether to vote “yes” to strike.

So if the moment does come, what will she tell her students?

“We have the right to protest unfair taxpayer spending,” she said. “This is not only unfair, it’s unconscionable. Their priorities have been wrong for 10 years.”

Then she paused and made clear that her decision had not been made. She considers herself a person of principle, and that will guide her in making a decision.

lesson plan

Denver hopes to keep its schools open in a strike — and the union wants you to send your kids

PHOTO: Kathryn Scott Osler/The Denver Post
Students eat lunch in the cafeteria at Dora Moore K-8 School in Denver.

Superintendent Susana Cordova says she is committed to keeping Denver schools open and continuing to educate students in the event of a strike.

In Los Angeles, where a teacher strike is entering its second week, many students are watching movies and playing games. Cordova said she plans to do more for the 71,000 students in district-run schools if teachers vote to strike and state intervention does not lead to a deal. The 21,000 students who attend charter schools will not be affected.

“We want to assure parents school will stay open,” she said. “We know it is critically important that we focus on the education of our kids. Sixty percent of our kids qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. We know they depend on school not just for their meals but for their access to opportunity.”

Negotiations broke down Friday between the district and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, the union that represents teachers and special service providers such as nurses, school psychologists, and counselors. A strike vote is taking place in two sessions, one Saturday and another Tuesday. The earliest a strike could start is Jan. 28.

This would be the first strike in 25 years in the state’s largest school district. In 1994, the district used more than 1,000 substitutes to keep schools open, though many parents kept their children at home, something union leaders encouraged.

It’s not clear yet how high teacher participation in a strike would be. During the final week of bargaining, some teachers reported near universal support in their buildings, while others said some of their colleagues were uncertain. Some teachers have said they disagree with the union position in the negotiations and won’t participate as a matter of principle.

Teachers who strike do not get paid while they are not at work.

Cordova said the district is “in the process of building out our sub pool” and offering higher pay to those willing to work during a strike. But she declined to say how many substitutes the district could call on, and some teachers say they already have a hard time finding subs for routine absences.

Substitutes who work during a strike will earn $200 a day, double the normal rate, and “super subs” who work more than a certain number of days a year will get $250.

Many central office staff who have past teaching experience will be sent to schools to work with students. Cordova said the district is working on pre-packaged lesson plans for every grade and subject area so that learning can still take place, and officials will prioritize placing qualified staff members with special education and preschool students, those she deemed most vulnerable.

Students who get free or reduced-price lunch will still be able to eat in school cafeterias.

For its part, the union is encouraging parents to send their children to school, but with a different purpose.

“One major goal of a strike is for school buildings to be shut down as a demonstration of the essential labor performed by educators,” the union wrote in an FAQ document. “To this end, we encourage parents to send their students to school if their school building remains open. Student safety is paramount for all district schools, therefore the district will be obliged to close schools if safety becomes an issue due to limited staffing.”

Union officials said they were working to establish alternative daytime care with community partners like churches and Boys and Girls Clubs should schools close.