February 7, 2024

Families, advocates give IPS deadline to address student achievement gap

Parents and advocates hold up signs calling for Indianapolis Public Schools to partner with local charter schools with the best outcomes for Black and Brown students. - Eric Weddle/WFYI

Parents and advocates hold up signs calling for Indianapolis Public Schools to partner with local charter schools with the best outcomes for Black and Brown students.

Eric Weddle/WFYI

A few dozen parents Wednesday demanded the leaders of Indianapolis Public Schools quickly develop a plan to address the persistent academic achievement gap between students of color and their White classmates.

During a press conference held inside IPS headquarters, families said a step toward the solution is for the district to partner with local charter schools that demonstrated academic success for Black, Brown, and low-income students.

“We want an IPS where every school is a great school that closes the opportunity gap,” parent Gregory Henson said. “As IPS board members you set the vision for this district. We are asking you to call on the IPS administration to have a detailed plan in place by June to grow public schools that are working.”

Four of the elected board members quietly accepted the petition with a thousand signatures calling for them to pass a resolution asking the IPS administration to grow local charter schools with the best outcomes for Black and Brown students. The campaign and media event were organized by the nonprofit Stand For Children, a national education advocacy group with a local chapter started in 2011.

The families also warned they would not support district initiatives for property-tax referendums in future elections until a plan is developed.

“I hope every board member knows that. I want to be your partner,” Henson said. “We all want to be your partners to grow the best schools.”

A year ago, the IPS board shelved plans for a $413.6 million operating property tax referendum after months of pushback from charter school advocates and community groups. They argued the district spending plan should also give equal per-pupil funding to the district’s charter school partners and the city’s independent charter schools.

The issue

At Indianapolis Public Schools, black students score far below White students on Indiana’s standardized exam, which is used as a local and federal benchmark for academic proficiency. Black and Brown students make up more than 70 percent of the district's enrollment.

In 2021, the district announced a goal of 50 percent of Black students in grades 3-8 passing the ILEARN by 2025. But last year, less than 6 percent of Black students passed, compared to around 36 percent of white students at district managed schools, according to state data.

A recent district report showed just 20 percent of IPS-managed schools and district partner charter schools made it the top 20 schools in Marion County for overall performance based on Black students passing both the English and math portions of the ILEARN test. For Hispanic students, only one IPS school — the Merle Sidener Gifted Academy which requires a student to qualify for enrollment — made the top 20 list using the same academic metric.

Last year IPS began carrying out a sweeping and controversial plan to overhaul academics and change school configurations to evenly distribute academic resources to all schools. It remains to be seen whether the changes, including the opening of middle schools this summer, will lead to stronger academic outcomes.

The IPS response

As the district board devised the overhaul, known as Rebuilding Stronger, parents and advocates called on IPS to partner with independent charter schools like Paramount Schools of Excellence and Indiana Math & Science Academy that have academic outcomes for Black and Latino students that surprise IPS. These partnerships were not part of the approved plan.

On Wednesday, IPS Board President Angelia Moore offered little comment to the media after receiving the petition and hearing from parents.

“Collectively we just received the request. As always, we will be open to communication,” Moore said. “But until the board meets as a whole, you know, one of us can't make a statement on how we'll move forward.”

Kenneth Allen, board vice president, deferred questions to Moore. Two other board members, Venita Moore and Hope Hampton, did not speak to the media.

In a statement, Superintendent Aleesia Johnson said she appreciated the parents' perspectives.

"Every family in Indianapolis wants great choices at great schools, and that is what our district has been wholly focused on  since 2015 with our innovation network school partnerships, our emerging schools supports, and, next year, the full implementation of Rebuilding Stronger.” she said. “Our North Star will continue to be keeping our commitment to great schools, in every neighborhood, for every student.”

What's next

The Indianapolis Public Schools Board meets three times this month at the John Morton-Finney Center for Educational Services:

  • 6 p.m. Feb. 20 for a work session
  • 6 p.m. Feb. 27 for an agenda review session
  • 6 p.m. Feb. 29 for an action session

The public can attend all meetings.

Eric Weddle is the WFYI education editor. Contact Eric at eweddle@wfyi.org.


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