A group of high-demand magnet schools in the Indianapolis Public Schools district enrolls a disproportionate number of white students over students of color. Data presented at a school board work session Monday night shows the schools do not mirror overall district demographics.
This year 24 percent of IPS K-8 students are white. But 65 percent of students are white, on average, at four schools – Center for Inquiry Schools 2, 70, and 84, and Butler Lab School 60.
District leaders say this gap was created, in part, because of current standards set around the district’s lottery program. The IPS enrollment process prioritizes two categories: siblings of current students and students who live within a half-mile of the school.
The district says students who fall into these categories account for as high as 94 percent of the spots filled at CFI 70, 84 and Butler Lab School 60.
Most IPS schools don’t have this gap. At IPS K-8 choice schools – any school different than the school assigned based on the student’s neighborhood – nearly 76 percent of students are students of color, the same as the district.
“I think what we need to do is figure out how we both expand the number of seats that everyone wants, while at the same time making sure that we're equitably giving out the limited seats that we have right now,” IPS Director of Enrollment and Options Patrick Herrel says.
Kindergarten programs at the same group of high-demand schools show even larger gaps. 72 percent of enrolled students there, on average, are white.
Herrel says kindergarten enrollment is a key figure since enrollment in this class will snowball into other grades.
Some other high-demand IPS schools did not see similar disproportionate enrollment numbers, such as Center for Inquiry School 27 and Butler Lab School 55.
At the meeting, IPS leaders also talked about racial equity across the district.
Herrel says the school board needs to answer two questions. First, he says it will have to decide how to measure equitable enrollment.
Census data in 2010 showed that 47 percent of people who lived within the IPS boundary were white. This data is almost a decade old, but board members commented that the current number likely remains higher than the district’s current white student population of 24 percent.
This leaves IPS leaders with a decision – which figure they should use to measure equity.
“It tells us that we need to work closely with our school administration and look at how better yet to ensure equity, as it relates to race throughout all of our school district,” IPS School Board Vice President Venita Moore says. “So that all of our schools, choice schools and others, look very much like the community that we serve.”
Herrel says the second question is how to fix racial enrollment gaps in magnet schools, which will likely mean adjusting priorities in the district’s enrollment lottery system.
The board discussed several options, including changing or removing sibling and proximity priority, adding poverty as a consideration, and looking to other large district lottery models. Los Angeles Unified School district, for example, uses a point-based lottery system.
Some board commissioners brought up another possible solution – replicating high-performing programs in other areas of the city, making it easier for students across the district to attend these schools.
However, CFI and Butler principals at Monday’s meeting said while they would also like to replicate these programs, the process is difficult and time-consuming.
Ron Smith, principal at Butler Lab School 60, says it’s crucial the replication process is done correctly.
“The district has made efforts to replicate popular programs when and where they can,” Smith says. “But we have to go about it in a deliberate way to make sure program integrity isn't completely lost.”
The board says it plans to continue looking at data on how changes to the enrollment process would impact racial equity in the district. The board may also hold community meetings on the topic.