Speaking to a gathering of teachers and leaders from three Indianapolis schools, Gov. Mike Pence said school choice and accountability helps the state’s most vulnerable kids.
Pence spoke to the annual Charter Schools USA summit at the downtown Westin Hotel. The Florida-based company mostly manages charter schools. But in Indiana, it runs three schools that formerly belonged to Indianapolis Public Schools after the state took them over in 2012 citing six years of low test scores and failing grades.
Options like the CSUSA-run schools and charter schools give families more choices to educate their children, he said.
“We want to eliminate low income and location as barriers to receiving a quality education,” Pence said. “Public charter schools are an essential element of achieving that objective. I believe, in my heart of hearts, that no child should have to remain in an under performing school.”
CSUSA operates Howe and Manual high schools and Emma Donnan Middle School. Donnan this year will add a second CSUSA-run school within its walls – separately operated under the same roof — serving elementary grades through a partnership with Indianapolis Public Schools. The company also has approval to manage a new charter school this fall, either in Indianapolis or in southern Indiana.
Although at least one CSUSA-run Indiana school has seen its state letter grade improve, overall there has not been huge test score improvements since the company took control.
Howe has continued to earn “F” letter grades from the state under the company’s oversight. Manual was the first of five schools that entered state takeover in 2012 to see it’s grade rise — it earned a “D” last year.
This year, Howe’s staff plans to try using restorative justice for discipline, said Tyler Small, the school’s incoming principal. It’s a philosophy of dispute resolution, discipline and reconciliation based on talking and learning the root cause of disciplinary problems, rather than depending heavily on traditional methods of punishment such as detention or suspension.
Small was an assistant principal at Donnan last year. He wants to get to the core of students’ behavior problems and try to be less punitive in hopes that it will help turn the school around.
Howe students struggle with discipline, math and reading, Small said. Only 37 percent of its high school students passed the state 10th grade English test last year, and only 49 percent passed the state math exam. Howe serves grades 7 to 12.
Donnan has also received “F” letter grades from the state since the company took over the school.
But CSUSA’s CEO, Jon Hage, said he hopes adding elementary grades will help.
Hage said there was a lot of turnover at Donnan because half of the kids every year would leave for high school and be replaced by incoming seventh graders. Many students also move in and out of the school during the school year as their families move to different neighborhoods.
“Now we’ll have a K to 8, which is really, educationally, the most sound,” he said. “Middle schools that stand-alone are traditionally not a really good educational model because parents have to pull their kids out of a school after fifth or sixth grade.”
Hage said CSUSA has invested more time and energy into Indianapolis than any other city it serves because Indiana is “still battling the politics of it all.”
“How do you make this a little bit more about what’s working and what’s not?” he said. “Make it less about what the adults want and more about what’s working for kids. Our goal is to get the politics out of the classroom and out of the schools, deal with that among some of the adults and focus the schools on results.”
Pence praised new laws this year, which added more money for charter schools by expanding the state’s voucher program, making it the largest in the country.
Within the next three years, 22 new charter schools have been approved and are scheduled to open. But with that, Pence said, comes higher expectations for the schools. Five Marion County charter schools closed this year, so accountability has to be a priority, he said.
“My ambition is nothing less than to have 100,000 more kids in B or better (rated) schools by the fall of 2020,” Pence said.