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.

Speaking Up

Letters to J.B.: Here’s what 10 Illinois educators said governor-elect Pritzker should prioritize

PHOTO: Keri Wiginton/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images

As governor-elect and national early childhood education advocate J.B. Pritzker assembles his transition team and builds out his early agenda, we asked educators to weigh in with items he should consider.

Here are 10 of their responses, which range from pleas for more staffing to more counseling and mental health services. Letters have been edited only for clarity and length. Got something to add? Use the comment section below or tell us on Twitter using #PritzkerEdu.

From: A non-profit employee who works with schools in the city and suburbs

Letter to J.B.: I work with a number of students from the City of Chicago and sadly most of them lack basic skills. Most of the students lack the ability to read and write properly, and perform below grade level. It is alarming how many students don’t have critical-thinking and analytical skills. The lack of education in low-income and minority population will hurt our city and state in years to come.

***

From: A youth organizer at Morrill Elementary, a K-8 school on Chicago’s Southwest Side

Letter to J.B.: Morrill School has suffered from constant turnover due to an unstable Chicago Public Schools environment that cares more about upholding its own self-interest than the people it should be serving. We need representatives that will advocate for what communities say they need!

***

From: A music teacher at a Chicago charter school

Letter to J.B.: I work at a charter school and I don’t think we are doing the best we can for our kids. Our school’s policies are too harsh and dehumanizing.

***

From: A Chicago charter school social worker

Letter to J.B.: We’ve cut mental health services throughout the city and that has crippled us. Parents have a hard time getting jobs and having enough money to supply basic needs.

***

From: A Chicago principal

Letter to J.B.: My school is 100 percent free- and reduced-price lunch-eligible, or low-income population. We are a middle years International Baccalaureate school. Our children were once were the lowest performing in the area and now we are a Level 1-plus school. Our school was on the closing list back in 2005 when I took over.

But now we are an investment school. Teachers are dedicated and work hard. We need funding for a new teacher to keep classes small and additional funds to purchase multiple resources to continue and strengthen overall academics. We have a vested interest in educating all of our children!

***

From: A teacher at A.N. Pritzker Elementary in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood

Letter to J.B.: Great kids. Great staff. No librarian. Extremely poor special education services. No substitute teachers. No time for planning. No time for anyone to provide mental health services for those in need.

***

From: A teacher at Whitney Young High School on Chicago’s Near West Side

Letter to J.B.: Every teacher knows that well over 90 percent of the students with academic problems have serious problems at home and in their neighborhoods. In the suburbs, social worker and psychologist staffing levels are often five to 10 times what they are here in the city, where kids are dealing with way more challenges, not less. If you’re looking for bang for your buck, fund psychologists and social workers!

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From: A teacher in the Galesburg CUSD 205

Letter to J.B.: Our school is diverse in all definitions of the word. We have a diverse population in terms of race, money, and ability. We currently don’t have the money to keep all of the schools in our district open and are in the process of closing some of the buildings in order to get the others up to code and comfortable; many of our schools don’t even have air conditioning.

***

From: A teacher at Kiefer School, a Peoria school that educates children with severe behavioral and learning challenges

Letter to J.B.: We work with students with behavioral and mental challenges who need more help getting mental health services. We’ve had children deflected from being hospitalized due to no beds being available.

***

From: A teacher at Unity Junior High School in Cicero

Letter to J.B.: People often think that our school is “bad,” but the truth is, we have so many staff and students that work hard every day to bring positive change.

The right stuff

Who will be Tennessee’s next education chief? Gov.-elect Bill Lee is getting lots of advice

PHOTO: TN.gov
As outgoing Gov. Bill Haslam looks on, Gov.-elect Bill Lee speaks at the state Capitol the day after being elected the 50th governor of Tennessee. His 75-day transition will end with his inauguration on Jan. 19.

The changing of the guard that’s coming to the Tennessee governor’s office will now definitely come also to the department overseeing state education policy.

Candice McQueen took herself out of the running to continue as education commissioner with last week’s announcement that she’ll transition in January to a new job as CEO of the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching.

While it was unlikely she would have stayed on permanently given the challenges with testing during her four-year tenure, McQueen’s planned departure cleans the slate for Gov.-elect Bill Lee to start fresh in finding the right fit to lead his vision for Tennessee schools.

The Republican businessman faces lots of choices in making one of the most important picks of his 23-member cabinet: Homegrown talent or a national search? Classroom teaching experience or workforce expertise? A quick hire or an extended search?

And he’s been getting a lot of advice.

From advocacy and philanthropic groups to the higher education and business communities, Tennessee has a large number of partners and stakeholders who care deeply about continuing the state’s momentum to improve student achievement.

“We believe that decisions made around talent and who is going to be working on education — either in the governor’s office or state Department of Education — are some of the most important decisions that the next governor will make,” said David Mansouri, president of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, or SCORE, a nonprofit group that works closely with the education department.

“We’re looking for someone who’s going to hold the line on the school accountability framework that the state has worked so hard to build,” said Gini Pupo-Walker, a leader with Conexión Américas, which advocates for Latino families in Nashville. “We want to keep up the urgency around improving performance of different student groups and making sure that we are bringing up all kids.”

Transition period

Since winning the election on Nov. 6, Lee has huddled with a small team of advisers in a windowless office at the state Capitol to plan the transition to a new administration, including sorting through about 600 resumes submitted for various jobs in all departments.

Transition spokeswoman Laine Arnold said the plan is to have the full cabinet in place by Lee’s Jan. 19 inauguration. But, she added, “we will be open to extending this process if needed.”

Lee’s pick for schools chief is considered key — and not just because the governor-elect made education a priority on the campaign trail, including a frequent call for stronger career and technical education.

The new commissioner eventually will manage a department of more than 600 employees overseeing a public school system for about a million students, 78,000 certified educators, and $6 billion in school funding.

And because Congress voted to cede much control over K-12 policy to state officials under a 2015 federal law, the commissioner plays an even larger role than in decades past.

Homegrown vs. national

Because of the high stakes, groups like SCORE are urging Lee to cast a wide net in his search for a successor to McQueen.

“We should aspire to have best-in-class and best-in-the-nation talent, just like we’ve had the last 10 years,” said Mansouri. “That may mean the person is from Tennessee, or from somewhere else.”

PHOTO: TN.gov
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen was one of Gov. Bill Haslam’s most visible cabinet members.

Other groups emphasize the value of being familiar with Tennessee schools.

“As an organization comprised of school district leaders, we believe it would be an advantage for a state commissioner of education to have experience both in the classroom and as a public school system leader in Tennessee,” said Dale Lynch, executive director of the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents.

Adds Beth Brown, president of the Tennessee Education Association: “The next commissioner should have a practical understanding of what goes on in our public schools. Having that kind of leader in place will go a long way to restoring teachers’ confidence in our Department of Education.”

Last handoff

When Republican Bill Haslam took the baton from Democrat Phil Bredesen in 2011 in the last gubernatorial handoff, he conducted a national search before plucking Kevin Huffman from the ranks of the education reform movement as his point person on schools.

A lawyer who was an executive with Teach For America in Washington, D.C., Huffman was tasked with managing Tennessee’s just-approved overhaul of K-12 schools as part of its $500 million federal Race to the Top award. The Obama-era competition had incentivized states to adopt shared academic standards, improve its lowest-performing schools, measure students’ growth over time, and design policies to reward and retain top teachers.

State education commissioner Kevin Huffman.
PHOTO: TN.gov
Kevin Huffman was Tennessee’s education commissioner from 2011 to 2014.

A polarizing leader, Huffman left after three years of clashing with teacher groups, district leaders, and state lawmakers over policies ranging from teacher licensing and evaluations to charter schools and Common Core.

Haslam then turned to McQueen, a native of Clarksville, Tenn., former teacher, and respected dean of education at Nashville’s Lipscomb University.

“She was a kinder, gentler Kevin Huffman,” said Dan Lawson, long-time school superintendent in Tullahoma. “They shared the same political agenda and underpinning, but Candice was able to deliver it in a smoother, less abrasive fashion.”

McQueen held the rudder steady on the state’s new roadmap, plus bolstered supports for teachers, tweaked school turnaround strategies, and launched a major reading initiative. But ongoing fumbles delivering a state test took their toll.

Interim or not

The complexities of education policy, including Tennessee’s pioneering changes over the last decade, are why SCORE leaders hope that Lee doesn’t rush to make a hire.

“We think that having a thoughtful approach that looks for the best in the nation is the right one,” said Mansouri. “If that takes time, that’s OK. It’s about getting the right person.”

There’s precedent here.

Before Haslam hired Huffman several months after taking office, he leaned on acting commissioner Patrick Smith, who had led the state’s Race to the Top oversight team under Bredesen.

Other groups agree that a thorough search is in order.

“My sense is that the Lee administration will look for top talent and let quality drive their hiring decisions. But having some ties to Tennessee will be a huge bonus,” said Shaka Miller, state director of the American Federation for Children, a group that Lee has supported and that backs a “school choice” agenda, including charter schools and voucher-like programs.

Qualities and qualifications

On the campaign trail, Lee pledged to hire the most talented and qualified people for his administration.

Arnold adds: “He’s looking for those who share his vision in making Tennessee a national leader, while also ensuring geographic and individual diversity.”

While she declined to discuss names, Lee has sought advice from two superintendents from West Tennessee — Dorsey Hopson in Shelby County and Marlon King in Fayette County — both of whom were on a 72-person campaign list of Tennesseans who supported or advised him on education.

PHOTO: TN.gov
Dorsey Hopson is superintendent of Shelby County Schools, Tennessee’s largest district.

Hopson’s backing of the millionaire Republican candidate from affluent suburban Williamson County raised eyebrows — and some fury — among his mostly urban Democratic district in Memphis, which has the state’s highest share of impoverished students.

Hopson told Chalkbeat at the time that he was “not angling for a job,” but rather that he and Lee had developed a mutual respect while getting to know each during the last year and a half.

“We routinely discussed faith, family, government, and education issues,” said Hopson, a lawyer who has headed Tennessee’s largest district since 2013. “I appreciated the thoughtful and humble way that he sought my input.”

Asked last week about Hopson, Lee told Memphis TV station Local 24 News that he hadn’t spoken with the superintendent specifically about his administration but added: “He has a role. We talk. We’ve become friends. I have a great deal of respect for his expertise.”

Hopson would have to take a pay cut, however, if Lee offered and he accepted the commissioner’s job. As superintendent, he makes $285,000 a year. The salary for the state’s education chief is $200,000.