When innovation isn’t…innovative.

When innovation isn’t innovative, you drive families away in search of forward-thinking, progressive educational ideas wherever they exist.

In the case of Indianapolis Public Schools and their latest grade reconfiguration proposal, it’s not innovation at all. It’s a rather old idea that has been recycled many times, in different iterations. When I transitioned into “Junior High” school in IPS in the early 1990’s, all of the Junior High schools in the district became “Middle Schools” the following year and included 6th graders. I am not sure if this was the first time IPS experimented with grade configurations, but we can certainly see it wasn’t the last. Since then, I can recollect many configurations: K-5, 6-8, 7-12, 6-12, K-8, K-12. In 30+ years, why haven’t we found something that works and stuck with it, for consistency’s sake??

Many parents that I know (myself included) prefer the K-8 model – so WHY are we trashing it, again? Let me be more precise – WHY is it proposed that traditional IPS schools will not be keeping the K-8 model, and yet the independent charter schools and the Innovation Network Schools (charter schools partnering with IPS) will be allowed to retain the model? It begs the question – is IPS intentionally reconfiguring grade levels in order to drive enrollments toward other schools that will be retaining the K-8 model? I don’t know if you see it like I see it, but that appears to be the foreseeable consequence of this change.

Has anyone in IPS done any research on the benefits of K-8 school models prior to suggesting this change? (The benefits to STUDENTS, not corporations, let me be clear). There are numerous studies citing the benefits of K-8 schooling, including increased student self-esteem, better social-emotional adjustment, and higher rates of achievement.

Changing the grade configurations in IPS has not, and will not work – because it does not address the root problems plaguing IPS. The students attending IPS are a microcosm of Indianapolis – and Indianapolis is changing. Some areas of the city are rapidly gentrifying, and the folks who used to live there have to find a new place to live. However, racism hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s alive and well, and unfortunately, it still influences decisions regarding school enrollment. The thing about racism in systems of education is that it’s not always readily visible on the surface level. You can see it if you look intently at patterns of enrollment. You can see it if you wish to compare the vast difference in opportunities offered to students. You can see vestiges of institutional racism in test scores.

Yes, friends. The root problems are more nefarious than which ages of kids attend schools together. It’s not about the ages of the kids, it’s about the skin tones. It all boils down to race and class. We have been tinkering around the edges of trying to cure racism through our educational system for the past 50 years.

If Indianapolis has learned anything from Brown v. Board (1954) [which was not followed in Indianapolis] and from the resulting mandated busing (U.S. District Court vs. IPS, 1968-1997)…we should know that even decades long forced, court-ordered racial integration of students did not lessen the chokehold of educational apartheid in our city. (For historical clarification see: https://indianahistory.org/wp-content/uploads/indianapolis-public-schools-desegregation-case.pdf)

The Indiana Department of Education offers the following statistics regarding the current student body of IPS: 40.3% Black, 31.8% Latinx, 21.6% White, with the remaining 6.2% comprised of Multiracial, Asian, and Native American. In a blog post I wrote in 2015 (“Black Lives Matter“), the district was approximately 50% Black, 23% Latinx and 20% White, so we are seeing some shifts. The district has lost a significant number of Black students while gaining Latinx and White students. Why is this happening?

It’s no secret that Charter Schools target Black communities (see works by David Stovall; Kristen Buras or Pauline Lipman for further reading). In Indianapolis, we certainly see this playing out – and if you don’t believe me, take the time to research some of the charter school demographics listed at the IDOE website. From my research, the range of Black student enrollment at local charter schools is 67% – 95%. One could assume from this data that the loss of Black students in IPS over the past 7 years has been the charter school’s gain.

When you consider the grade reconfiguration proposal, the changing demographics of our city, and the asinine set of enrollment preferences at Enroll Indy, IPS is setting a recipe for disaster. Some of the highest performing and in-demand schools in the IPS district are K-8 schools. These schools also have the highest percentages of white students. Instead of replicating these highly desirable school models and making them accessible to students on all sides of town, and from all backgrounds, instead IPS proposes to reconfigure these schools, succeeding only in pissing off it’s most vocal and politically powerful bloc of parents.

One can only hope that IPS begins to listen to its constituents and follow the sound guidance of research and best practices in future decision making. Until then, the people vote with their enrollment – and will continue in search of true educational innovation.

((My opinions are my own; and are not reflective of any other entity. Also, I have a new email address: tv4gcosby@gmail.com))