Claire Fiddian-Green is the President & CEO of the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation.
Indianapolis has a long history of ensuring families have educational options that meet their needs. One perspective on this journey and how leaders statewide and in Indianapolis came together to expand options for students is shared in a recent piece by Robin Lake in Education Next, The Hoosier Way.
The piece traces the roots of the school choice movement in Indiana, including the successes achieved through a bipartisan approach. School choice in Indianapolis is highlighted, and the article includes mention of the roles played by organizations like The Mind Trust and Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS).
The Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation has supported the concept of school choice for over fifteen years. The bulk of our school choice grant funding has gone to support the work of The Mind Trust and its efforts to improve education outcomes for Indianapolis students, with grants awarded totaling $14.7 million since 2006.
The Hoosier Way highlights the diverse portfolio of school types serving students in Indianapolis from traditional to turnaround. The piece also points out that more than a third of all Marion County public-school students now attend a charter school. The city also has 21 innovation network schools – public schools that are held accountable by the school district while enjoying full autonomy and flexibility when it comes to academics and operations— that serve one in four of its public school students. In addition, the Indiana Department of Education school directory listed over 70 non-public institutions serving in Marion County during the 2018-2019 academic year.
The positive impact of Indianapolis school choice is validated in two studies. One by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) shows that, in the 2016-17 academic year, both charter schools and innovation network schools had stronger reading and math gains than their traditional public school peers. Another study, conducted by researchers at Indiana University, looked at elementary school students who enrolled and stayed in Indianapolis charter schools. Those students outperformed their peers in all 11 Indianapolis school districts.
However, while tremendous progress has been made, there is still more work to do. Too many K-12 students in Indianapolis do not demonstrate proficiency in core academic subjects such as math, science and reading. In 2019, for example, only 28 percent of Marion County 3rd through 8th graders earned a passing score on both the math and English language arts sections of the statewide assessment, ILEARN. These disappointing outcomes underscore the need to intensify our collective efforts across all school types to ensure students are getting the full support they need.
Every child deserves a quality educational experience that meets his or her needs and prepares him or her for a successful life after graduation. Because each student has a unique set of talents, interests and challenges, a variety of options in education is crucial. In addition, for families who cannot afford to move to or live in communities with consistently top-performing schools, school choice enables these families to have more than one education option for their children. Simply put, school choice improves equity for families who have the fewest resources.
As every parent knows, each child is different, and a one-size-fits-all approach to education does not work. As we celebrate National School Choice Week, we are grateful for the community leaders who have helped to multiply school options for families. Their efforts are improving the lives of people living in Indianapolis and elsewhere around the state.