IPS sticking with priority school list despite grade changes

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
School 58 improved to a C from an F this year based on improved test scores.

After struggling for three years to earn a passing grade from the state of Indiana — and under threat of possible state takoever — Indianapolis Public School 58 finally did it this year, leaping to a C from an F.

The swing was driven by a gain in the percentage of students passing ISTEP, up to 49 percent from 44 percent last year, but the better grade wasn’t enough to get off Superintendent Lewis Ferebee’s watch list.

In fact, Ferebee said last year’s list of 11 priority schools, made up of schools that had consecutive F grades and flat test score growth, won’t change at all. The schools that improved, like School 58, will continue as “priority schools.” But Ferebee also doesn’t want to add an new priority schools to his list, even those that earned their second consecutive F grade.

There are six new schools that would meet last year’s criteria: School 55, School 63, School 107 and the middle school students from Crispus Attucks, Broad Ripple and George Washington high schools, who are treated as if they attended separate schools by the state.

That’s important because the district’s priority school designation brings with it extra supports from the central office, more teacher professional development and a principal hiring incentive program.

In order to be removed from the IPS priority schools list, a school must earn a grade of C or better for two consecutive years, according to deputy Superintendent Wanda Legrand. But adding more priority schools is costly, and the district wants to remain focused on improving the original group.

“When we arrived during the 2013-14 school year, there were 22 schools rated F,” Legrand said. “Due to limited resources, the bottom 11 were chosen as IPS priority schools. Those 11 schools rated F either had decreased in A-F points from the 2012-13 school year or hadn’t achieved any points during the 2012-13 school year.”

And Ferebee said A-F grades and test scores aren’t the only factors that should be used to measure a school’s quality.

“The A-F accountability designations are very volatile,” Ferebee said. “They go up and down, they swing. It’s just one factor of progress. We wanted to make sure we did a deeper dive into growth.”

But the district isn’t neglecting IPS’s other poorly performing schools, he said. Ferebee said wants to be even more aggressive with schools that are showing signs of struggle, even if they aren’t officially designated “priority schools.”

“We’ve included some schools into that work without officially adding them to the list based on needs that have come up,” Ferebee said. “We’re not going to wait until a school gets on a certain list to react and respond. We’ll use that to inform our efforts for school improvement.”

In fact, other IPS schools made the state’s separate “priority” list for test score drops or consistently low performance. The district announced the state’s updated list at its December school board meeting. Though there is some overlap, the 15 schools flagged by the state are not the same as the district’s own list.

School 48, for example, made the state’s list for its alarming trend of poor ISTEP performance. After three straight years of earning F’s, the school jumped to a D last year. This year, it was back down to an F. But it is not considered an IPS priority school.

Ferebee thinks School 48, and other schools like it, are making progress, even if the state views them as being in serious danger of failing. The district is still watching those schools carefully, even if they are not on the list for the greatest urgency.

“We want to make sure we stay committed with the schools we chose,” Ferebee said. “We know it takes at least two to three years to sustain and build capacity.”

The IPS schools recently named by the state as priority schools are:

  • Elementary schools: Key Learning Community, School 42, School 44, School 48, School 55, School 63, School 69, School 93, School 103, School 107
  • Middle schools: Broad Ripple, Crispus Attucks, George Washington, Northwest and John Marshall

union power

Charter teachers won big in nation’s first strike. What now?

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff / Chalkbeat
Teachers from Acero charter schools in Chicago protest stalled negotiations Oct. 24, 2018, as they readied to vote on authorizing a strike.

Some 500 unionized teachers joined in the nation’s first charter strike last week, and succeeded in negotiating wage increases, smaller class sizes and a shorter school day. Their gains could foreshadow next year’s citywide contract negotiations — between the Chicago Teachers Union, with its contract expiring in June, and Chicago Public Schools.

“The issue of class size is going to be huge,” said Chris Geovanis, the union’s director of communications. “It is a critically important issue in every school.”

Unlike their counterparts in charters, though, teachers who work at district-run schools can’t technically go on strike to push through a cap on the number of students per class. That’s because the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act defines what issues non-charter public school teachers can bargain over, and what issues can lead to a strike.

An impasse on issues of compensation or those related to working conditions, such as length of the school day or teacher evaluations, could precipitate a strike. But disagreements over class sizes or school closures, among other issues, cannot be the basis for a strike.

The number of students per class has long been a point of contention among both district and charter school teachers.

Educators at Acero had hopes of pushing the network to limit class sizes to 24-28 students, depending on the grade. However, as Acero teachers capped their fourth day on the picket line, they reached an agreement with the charter operator on a cap of 30 students — down from the current cap of 32 students.

Andy Crooks, a special education apprentice, also known as a teacher’s aide, at Acero’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz school and a member of the teachers bargaining team, said that even having two fewer students in a classroom would make a huge difference.

“You really do get a lot more time with your students,” Crooks said. “And if you are thinking about kindergarten in particular, two less 5-year-olds really can help set the tone of the classroom.”

In district-run schools, classes are capped at 28 students in kindergarten through third grade, and at 31 students in fourth through sixth grade. But a survey by the advocacy group Parents 4 Teachers, which supports educators taking on inequality, found that during the 2017-2018 school year, 21 percent of K-8 classrooms had more students than district guidelines allowed. In 18 elementary school classrooms, there were 40 or more students.

The issue came up at last week’s Board of Education meeting, at which Ivette Hernandez, a parent of a first-grader at Virgil Grissom Elementary School in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood, said her son’s classes have had more than 30 students in them. When the children are so young and active — and when they come into classrooms at so many different skill levels — “the teachers can’t handle 30 kids in one class,” she told the board.

Alderman Sue Garza, a former counselor, accompanied Hernandez. She also spoke before the board about classroom overcrowding — worrying aloud that, in some grades at one school in particular, the number of students exceeded the building’s fire codes. (Board chair Frank Clark said a district team would visit the school to ensure compliance fire safety policies.)

While the Chicago Teachers Union aren’t technically allowed to strike over class sizes, the union does have a history of pushing the envelope when it comes to bargaining.

Back in 2012, when the Chicago Teachers Union last went on strike, they ended up being able to secure the first limit on class sizes in 20 years because the district permitted the union to bargain over class size.

They also led a bargaining campaign that included discussion over racial disparities in Chicago education and school closures, arguing that these trends impacted the working conditions of teachers.

“Even if you can’t force an employer to bargain over an issue, you can push them to bargain over the impact of an issue,” Bob Bruno, a labor professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, explained.

The Chicago Teachers Union also emerged from its 2012 negotiations with guarantees of additional “wraparound services,” such as access to onsite social workers and school counselors.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

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