Future of Schools

Lawmakers will consider exit strategy for state takeover

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Manual High School is one of three Indianapolis schools managed by Charter Schools USA.

Lawmakers will try to answer one of the great unsolved mysteries of Indiana’s education policy next month: What happens to a school taken over by the state at the end of the five-year contract signed by an outside group brought in to manage it?

Five persistently failing Indiana schools — four in Indianapolis and one in Gary — were removed from school district control and handed off to be run by companies and non-profit groups in 2012. But while state law lays out a step-by-step process for how state takeover begins, it is silent about what happens next.

Sen. Pete Miller, R-Avon, this week proposed a solution that could return the schools to the school districts they came from. But a provision that already has raised concerns would also allow the Indiana State Board of Education to turn those schools into charter schools, forever severing them from their former districts.

“Converting to a charter is not an option included in state law now,” Miller said. “I felt the Indiana State Board of Education should have that option.”

Miller’s proposal was added this week to Senate Bill 205, which is mostly aimed at adding rules to charter school contracts. The bill passed the Senate Education Committee 12-0 and is headed for a vote in the full Senate next week.

The option for the state to remove a school from district control is part of Public Law 221, passed by the legislature in  1999. The law requires the state to intervene when a school reaches six consecutive years of F grades under Indiana’s A to F grading system.

That happened for the first time in 2011 with seven schools. Under the law, public hearings were held on each school before the board considered five intervention options:

  • Revising the school’s improvement plan.
  • Merging the school with a higher scoring school.
  • Following the Indiana Department of Education’s recommendations to assign a “lead partner” organization to offer specialized assistance, such as teacher training or data analysis.
  • Following options proposed at a public meeting, including closing the school.
  • Initiating state takeover.

Two of the schools,  IPS’s George Washington and Broad Ripple high schools, were assigned lead partners under the third option. Five others — Gary’s Roosevelt High School along with IPS’s Emma Donnan Middle School and Manual, Howe and Arlington high schools — entered state takeover.

An outside group was brought in to run each school. For-profit companies took over at four schools: Tennessee-based EdisonLearning at Roosevelt and Florida-based Charter Schools USA at Donnan, Manual and Howe. Tindley Accelerated Schools, a non-profit charter school operator based in Indianapolis, took over Arlington.

Each group signed a five-year contract with the state board, including a “transition year” to start, during which the companies only observed and planned for the first year of takeover. The contracts are now in their third years and expire at the end of the 2015-16 school year. Last year the schools made modest progress on test scores. All were once again rated F by the state.

Despite the specific process laid out in Public Law 221 for how school could end up in state takeover, the law was missing something big — what happens at the end of the takeover contract.

“Lots of folks have recognized that we need to talk about this,” Miller said. “We never put in an exit strategy.”

A 2012 bill would have put takeover schools in their own category as “independent” schools with charter-like rules allowing them to be permanently separate from their former school districts. But that bill did not make it to a floor vote.

This year’s Senate Bill 205 instead gives the state board three options:

  • Return the school to the school district.
  • Convert it into a charter school.
  • Revisit the five options in Public Law 221.

The third option could allow the state board to renew its contract with the takeover organization, or make other choices like closing or merging the school or assigning a lead partner.

Libby Ciezniak, IPS’s statehouse lobbyist, said the takeover schools should ultimately return to the district.

“There’s always been a lot of uncertainty about this, but they’re still IPS schools,” she said.

While takeover schools are managed with IPS oversight, the district still owns and maintains the buildings and grounds. Permanently reassigning district-owned real estate to an outside group would be complicated, she said.

IPS also wants to know more about how the takeover schools would be evaluated at the end of their contracts and what factors would decide if they return to the district or not. Senate Bill 205 is not specific enough, Cierzniak said.

It states: “In making a determination under this section, the state board may consider all relevant factors, including overall performance of the school corporation and the special management team.”

IPS wants to know exactly what “relevant factors” will be considered.

“The approach taken in the legislation seems to make sense,” she said, “but we’d like to know the criteria.”


call for more

Almost half of Detroit district schools don’t have a gym teacher. Next year, that may change.

Students during PE class at Lyn Knoll Elementary School in 2016 in Aurora, Colorado. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

Since 10-year-old Hezekiah Haynesworth moved to his new school in the Detroit district, he’s always up out of his seat, talking to classmates and getting into trouble.

His mother, Victoria, says he wasn’t always like this. She believes he has nowhere to burn off excess energy because Bagley Elementary doesn’t offer students enough time for gym class or recess.

Bagley Elementary is one of 49 schools in the district without a gym teacher. Out of the 106 schools in the district, only 57 have at least one certified, full-time physical education teacher, according to data obtained by Chalkbeat.

The district employs 68 certified full-time physical education teachers for its student population of 50,875. More than 15,000 Detroit schoolchildren attend a school without a full time physical education teacher.

In Michigan, there are no laws requiring schools to offer recess. As for physical education, schools are required to offer the class, but the amount of time isn’t specified, which means some kids, like Hezekiah, might only go once a month or less.

“He’s had behavior issues, but if he had the gym time there’s different activities he would do to burn off energy,” she said. “They would get that anxiety and fidgetiness out of them.”

Haynesworth might get her wish. Superintendent Nikolai Vitti announced earlier this month that there’s money in the budget to put gym teachers back in schools, along with art and music teachers and guidance counselors next school year, though the budget plan has not yet been approved.

“Not every student is provided an opportunity for physical education or gym” right now, Vitti said at a meeting earlier this month.

The district has almost 200 teacher vacancies, and giving schools money for a gym teacher doesn’t mean a school will be able to hire one.

But Vitti said he has several efforts in the works, like more recruiting trips and better hiring practices, to address the difficulties of finding and bringing in new employees.

Detroit is not the only district that has cut back on physical education teachers in recent years. At a time when schools are heavily judged by how well students perform on math and reading exams, some schools have focused their resources on core subjects, cutting back on the arts and gym and cutting recess to make more time for instruction and test prep. But experts say that approach is short-sighted.

Research on the importance of physical activity in schools has reached a consensus — physical education improves children’s focus and makes them better students.

“Available evidence suggests that mathematics and reading are the academic topics that are most influenced by physical activity,” according to a 2013 federal report.

The link between physical education and improved reading is especially important for the Detroit district. Educators are working in high gear, in part pushed by Vitti, to prepare for the state’s tough new law that will go into effect in 2020, requiring third-graders who don’t read at grade level to be held back.

This year, the Michigan Department of Education has started to include data on physical education in schools into its school scoring system, which allows parents to compare schools. A separate score for physical education might push schools to hire physical education teachers.

Whether the state’s new emphasis on gym class or Vitti’s proposal to place a gym teacher in each district school is enough to put physical activity back in the schools is unclear, but Hezekiah’s mom Victoria desperately hopes it happens.

Hezekiah is given 45 minutes to each lunch, and if he finishes early, he’s allowed to run with the other children who finished early. If he doesn’t eat quickly enough to play, Victoria says she can expect a call about his disruptive behavior.

“I used to think that my son was just a problem — that it was just my problem,” she said. “But it’s a system problem. They don’t have the components they should have in the school.”

See which schools have gym teachers below.

Out of the game

The businessman who went to bat for apprenticeships is out of Colorado’s governor’s race

Democratic gubernatorial candidates Donna Lynne, Noel Ginsburg and Cary Kennedy at a candidate forum hosted by the Colorado Association of School Boards. (Photo by Nic Garcia)

Noel Ginsburg, an advocate for apprenticeships and a critic of Colorado’s teacher effectiveness law, has withdrawn from the Democratic race for governor.

Ginsburg, a businessman who had never run for office before, always faced a tough road to the nomination. He announced Tuesday that he would not continue with the petition-gathering or assembly process after his last place finish in the caucus, where he got 2 percent of the vote.

In an interview with The Denver Post, Ginsburg said, “I don’t believe I have the resources to be fully competitive.”

Just last month, Ginsburg released an education platform that called for the repeal of Colorado’s teacher effectiveness law, the signature legislative achievement of former state Sen. Mike Johnston, also a candidate for governor.

Ginsburg runs CareerWise, an apprenticeship initiative of Gov. John Hickenlooper that allows students to earn money and college credit while getting on-the-job experience starting in high school. His platform called for expanding apprenticeship programs and getting businesses more involved in education.

He also promised to lead a statewide effort to change the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights to allow the state to retain more revenue and send much of it to schools. He said that schools, not roads, should be the top priority of Colorado’s next governor.

Ginsburg will continue at the head of CareerWise, as well as Intertech Plastics, the company he founded.

Johnston, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne have all turned in signatures to place their names on the ballot. Former Treasurer Cary Kennedy, who has the endorsement of two teachers unions, is not gathering signatures and will need at least 30 percent of the vote at the assembly to appear on the ballot. Kennedy finished in first place at the caucus earlier this month.