INDIANAPOLIS—The Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) today joined The Mind Trust and Education Cities to kick-off “Reinventing America’s Schools: An Educational Revolution in Indianapolis,” a two-day conference at the Crossroads of America highlighting the city’s innovative, twenty-first century approach to K-12 school governance. The sold out event welcomes 14 delegations from Memphis, Oakland, Rochester, Washington, D.C., Denver and elsewhere.
In Indianapolis, school systems designed for an industrial society are being replaced by modern systems, in which the central administration does not operate every school or employ every teacher. Instead, the board and administration steer the system but contract with others to row—to operate many of the schools. If the schools work, the central administration expands and replicates them. If they don’t, it replaces them. Every year, it replaces the worst performers, replicates the best, and authorizes new models to meet new needs.
“This new formula—school autonomy, accountability for performance, diversity of school designs, parental choice, and competition between schools—is usually more effective than the centralized, bureaucratic approach we inherited from the twentieth century,” writes David Osborne, senior fellow and director of the Reinventing America’s Schools Project at PPI. “Indianapolis deserves close attention from education reformers. Though other cities have their own versions of ‘innovation schools’ or ‘pilot schools,’ only Indianapolis has given them the full autonomy and accountability that charters enjoy. The city’s charters, which outperform IPS’s traditional public schools, now educate more than one third of all public school students in the district, while innovation network schools already educate another 10 percent. Within another year or so, those two sectors combined will surpass 50 percent.”
Over the past 15 years, Indianapolis educators, civic leaders, philanthropists, and community groups have come together to innovate at a speed and scale rarely—if ever—tried in American history. Uniquely, they have had the only mayor in the country, who authorizes charter schools, and now Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) is authorizing “innovation network schools:” district schools with performance contracts and full, charter-style autonomy. Some are charters, some are startups, and some are existing IPS schools that have converted. All are not-for-profit organizations with independent boards, operating outside the teachers union contract. But all use IPS school buildings and count toward the district’s performance scores.
At a time when ideologues on both side of the aisle have polarized the debate on school reform, in the heartland pragmatism has prevailed, as both Democratic and Republican mayors have put partisanship aside to pioneer an innovative new model of governance and improve schools.
Over the next two days, conference participants will learn about the three waves of Indianapolis’s reform story, and the most important initiatives and organizations contributing to this educational renaissance. They will hear from current and past political leaders, explore the Mayor’s Charter School Initiative, learn how The Mind Trust has harnessed civic power and entrepreneurship to drive change, explore IPS’s Innovation Network Schools, and discuss the politics of Indy-style reform. The goal is participants will leave energized by what is possible and interested in exploring how these reforms might resonate in their own communities.