May 19, 2015

Report: IPS, Indy Charter Schools Should Use One Enrollment Application

IPS School 90, a magnet program, has had some of the most consistently strong test score growth in the state. - Alan Petersime / Chalkbeat Indiana

IPS School 90, a magnet program, has had some of the most consistently strong test score growth in the state.

Alan Petersime / Chalkbeat Indiana

A report out this week is urging the Indianapolis Public Schools district and city charter schools to consider partnering on a one-stop-shop approach for enrollment.

What the report found, basically, is enrolling in an Indianapolis public school -- be it IPS or a charter -- can be bewildering process for parents to navigate.

Students applying to an IPS magnet school have a different steps of enrollment based on whether they are new or returning to the district.

Some charters require in-person applications while others allow online submissions. The deadlines for all public city schools are not the same.

“If you think about applying for college, trying to navigate different deadlines and applications -- that is what it looks like for parents now in Indy,” said Caitlin Hannon, executive director of Teach Plus in Indianapolis which commissioned the a study of enrollment processes for IPS, charter schools and their authorizers.

The report, written by the Institute for Innovation in Public School Choice, says the IPS enrollment system and efforts by the city and local nonprofits to promote school options still leave parents and others confused.

Nathan Ringham, an IPS parent quoted in the report, said there is no one source to review deadlines, requirements or other issues related to enrollment.

“I shouldn’t have had to go to the state department of education to figure out the birth date cutoff for kindergarten,” he said. “I shouldn’t have to go to one page to see how we enroll as a new student and then another to see how to enroll in a magnet.”

In addition, enrollment projections by schools have been below target in past years because schools are unsure where students will attend until the school year begins. When teachers are hired months earlier based on flawed enrollment projections projections, they wind up being transferred to other schools or seeking another job, according to the report.

The institute and recommends that the city to consider a so-called common enrollment process. So rather than apply for multiple schools, a parent could fill out one application and rank their preference.

Cities, including Denver and New Orleans, offer a variation of the one-application approach that also provides information about each school, such as academic performance, so parents can compare schools.

“If the first choice is an IPS school and second is a charter and third is another charter -- that is fine,” Hannon said about how a common application would be filled out. “Then all of those would go into a lottery process where an algorithm is built and people are given their preferences by the way they have listed them and based on the requirements of each school.”

Data that could be collected in an open enrollment, Hannon said, could be used to identify whether a charter school is "creaming" -- taking the best students who apply -- or if students from one part of the city are seeking schools outside their neighborhood boundries. 

IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee has recently said he is open to discussing the common application.

“Clearly, there are many details to discuss to enable us to reach a solution that is user-friendly for families,” he said in a statement.

Two public meetings will be held in June to discuss school enrollment:

  • June 10, 5:30 p.m. at the City-County Council’s Community Affairs and Education Committee, City-County Building, 200 E. Washington St., Room. 118.
  • June 24, 5-8 p.m. town hall event at WFYI Building, 1630 N. Meridian St.

Contact WFYI education reporter Eric Weddle at or call (317) 614-0470. Follow on Twitter: @ericweddle.

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