January 23, 2019

2 Studies Point to Academic Success For Indy Charter Schools

A student fills out a worksheet.  - WFYI News, file

A student fills out a worksheet.

WFYI News, file

Two separate studies on Indianapolis charter schools found students in charters academically outperform their peers in the city's traditional public schools.

A study released last week from Stanford-based Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) found Indianapolis students fell behind their peers statewide, but the city’s charter school students showed higher test scores than students in traditional public schools. 

For example, black students posted on average lower test scores than the state average, regardless of school type. However, black students in Indianapolis’ charter schools posted significant gains over their peers attending IPS’ traditional schools.

Brandon Brown, CEO of the Mind Trust –– a local education reform group that has spearheaded the growth of innovation and charter schools in Indianapolis –– says this study is validation their work is headed in the right direction.

The Mind Trust assisted CREDO in categorizing Indianapolis schools for the study.

“While we’re excited, we in no way think the work is finished,” Brown says. “These results make us feel even more urgent.”

The Mind Trust recently received $24 million in grants, and Brown says these grants will help them continue their work to found autonomous schools, the creation a parent advocacy group and support for their already existing schools.

CREDO findings on Indianapolis charter schools:

  • Black charter students outperformed their black traditional public school (TPS) peers.
  • Hispanic charter school students outperformed Hispanic TPS students.
  • Special education charter students outperformed TPS special education students.
  • English language learners performed significantly better than ELL students in TPS. 

A second study released Tuesday by Hardy Murphy, an education researcher and professor at Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis, found elementary-aged students in charter schools authorized by the Indianapolis Mayor’s Office perform better than their traditional public school peers.

Murphy’s study was conducted separately from CREDO.

However, Murphy says this type of research on charter schools is difficult to conduct because of a range of factors, including parent motivation and student transfers. His research tries to adjust for student transfer by only studying students who enrolled in kindergarten and remained enrolled years after.

Murphy’s study notes criticisms hailed at past CREDO studies, including the misrepresentation of results.

Innovation Schools

The CREDO study is the first to look at innovation schools in the district, a controversial model of autonomous schools championed by former superintendent Lewis Ferebee and the Mind Trust.

However, the study’s findings on innovation schools were not statistically significant. With limited data, the study showed innovation schools improving math and reading test scores.

There are 20 innovation network schools within IPS, counting for nearly a quarter of all students enrolled in the district. A 2015 state law created the innovation model.

Critics of the rapid growth of innovation schools the district –– including Taria Slack and Susan Collins, two newly appointed IPS school board members –– often point to a lack of data.

“I believe it is time to pause starting new innovation schools. We need to evaluate carefully what is working and what is not working,” Taria Slack wrote in a WFYI questionnaire, “Rather than bringing in more unproven ideas, I would like to see IPS concentrate on replicating our successful schools across all parts of the district.”

It remains to be seen if these studies will impact the IPS board’s decision-making, which includes an upcoming vote whether to bring several charter schools under the IPS umbrella as innovation schools.

Ultimately, Murphy hopes these studies will progress the charter school debate.

“We’ve been stuck for a while on this debate of are charter schools effective? And I think we’re seeing emerging research that they certainly can be,” Murphy says. “The idea is to identify the conditions that result in charter school effectiveness.” 

CREDO will release studies on nine other cities across the country.

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