The Indianapolis Public Schools rebuilding stronger plan is really something. Whether that something is really good or really bad remains to be seen. However, there is no shortage of people willing to stake their flag at either end of the spectrum. The Mind Trust doesn’t support the plan. However, it had enough support on the board to pass unanimously which is a good thing because the plan is absolutely massive. Massive enough that there is enough embedded for almost anyone to find a part they support and a part they disagree with, myself included.
I have gone over the plan multiple times, and I still can’t figure out where I stand. I have hope, but I have questions. I see enough that I like to not be directly against it but enough that I’m worried about to not have asked for this. I know that those kinds of nuanced takes don’t really sell, but it is the only one I can authentically offer.
So here it goes:
I love ditching the K-8 model for more traditional elementary and middle school set-ups. This is not solely based on research. The research is mixed. The K-8 model is better for sixth graders moving up but worse for kids in the lower grades relative to a stand-alone elementary – almost cancelling the impact out entirely. But the truth is, I just don’t like it from a school culture perspective. First of all, basically no building was designed with the K-8 model in mind. You either have middle schoolers trying to fit in a building designed for lower elementary or little kids meandering around a giant high school when they would be better served in a much cozier setting. Second of all in a K-8 setting you rarely make decisions that are best for students. You make compromises that work for everyone. My school is K-8. There a lot of things that we could do more efficiently if we weren’t planning for ten different age groups…like dismissal. Third, elementary teachers don’t like confronting and holding middle schoolers accountable and vice-versa. K-8 schools still feel like two different schools.
If you are a frequent reader of the blog, then you know I am also a big fan of closing under enrolled schools. I know other people hate it but in the long run it saves money and is more efficient. That has to matter when you are operating with a finite budget.
Every student should have access to everything the district has to offer. This plan offers a way for that to happen. This is huge when you think about opportunities for students.
On the other hand? What is going to happen with these vacant buildings? IPS has been accused of trying to get around the law that allows buildings to be sold for $1. I’m not going that far in my judgment, but that law has allowed many different models of schools to pop up that otherwise wouldn’t have and some of them are thriving. In addition to just being the right thing to do I actually don’t want IPS to have a bunch of semi-abandoned buildings on its roster. They cost money even while sitting vacant.
Also, it is entirely possible to mix different demographics of students in a building and still have an achievement gap within the building. As a matter of fact these days that is usually what it looks like. So I am not necessarily sold on the belief that everyone technically having access to all offerings will actually have the desired impact.
Additionally, $800 million is a lot of money and as much money as it is, I still question if the goals set out could really be accomplished for that much. We have all seen public projects go over budget and this is the last thing a cash strapped district needs to do on the cheap, especially because if that happens they would likely be at the mercy of voters who could say no to another referendum.
If forced to take a stand today I wouldn’t be opposed to the plan. I agree with the goals and even agree with the methods outlined to meet them. However, there are areas I worry about, and I hope those areas are more flushed out before the plan is put into action.