Revise Details of IPS Rebuilding Stronger Plan to Actually Address Inequity
Revise Details of IPS Rebuilding Stronger Plan to Actually Address Inequity
Why this petition matters
Dear Dr. Johnson, IPS School Board members, and other members of the Indianapolis community:
Since the presentation of IPS Rebuilding Stronger plan details on September 13, IPS families and community members have been digesting and discussing the strengths and opportunities in the proposal—both inside of the feedback mechanisms provided by IPS and outside of those forums in our homes, neighborhood restaurants, and social media. Generally speaking, we’re excited to hear language about equity, resources, accessibility, and sustainability from district decision-makers, but the proposal is teeming with details that contradict those goals, leaving us feeling that any positive impact of these changes will be insignificant at best. Clearly, this plan is designed to solve IPS financial insolvency and may indeed achieve that goal. But beyond that, the Rebuilding Stronger plan is just rhetoric and token change that does not protect public education, address existing inequities in the district, simplify enrollment processes, or empower all learners.
What We Like
We’re excited about the prospect of more schools offering the pedagogies of popular choice schools, and the increased professional development and support for teachers that will hopefully accompany those transitions. New Montessori and inquiry-based schools—notice that we aren’t echoing your choice to call them IB schools before they’re actually accredited—are promising new opportunities!
We’re excited by the concept of strong neighborhood-school connections. The complex burdens and consequences of the pandemic already have us focused closer to home than perhaps we once were. We’re hyper aware of needs for personal connection and neighborly support and see clearly how schools have provided a context for that community to families for generations.
And most importantly, we’re happy to put equity at the forefront of this conversation. We see the disparities that the existing choice model has created. We want our children to see the diversity of our city reflected in their classrooms. We want all families to have access to before- and after-school care, extracurricular activities, enrichment opportunities, tutoring, arts, healthy food, physical activity, safe buildings and grounds, highly qualified faculty,…and lots more.
We understand that equity means those who are privileged will have to give up resources they have historically enjoyed for the benefit of the whole community. It’s on this word “equity,” however, that the proposed plan fails us most.
Why are established choice programs not more evenly distributed throughout the district? We’re puzzled by the proposed zone boundaries. Zone 2 contains five of the most sought-after established choice schools. No other zone has anywhere near that many established choice programs. Zone 4 has none. It's not hard to imagine that Zone 2’s boundaries, in particular, will exacerbate the lack of diversity and disproportionate spread of resources that we already see in IPS in choice schools. Why is there no talk of physically moving some of those established programs to more underserved areas rather than just starting new Montessori or inquiry programs from scratch in underserved areas? Even if the new programs are seeded with faculty highly trained in the pedagogies of their established counterparts, or effectively engage their own faculty who are well poised for the transition because they share similar pedagogical beliefs or teaching styles, it will take years, if ever, for the new programs to match what’s available in those established counterparts.
The practical impact of the zone boundaries as currently drawn is that families in the highest-income neighborhoods will continue to enjoy convenient access to their choice of multiple high-performing, high demand schools right outside their doorsteps while many families in lower-income neighborhoods will need to bus their children across town or shoulder the practical and financial burden of transportation—which is prohibitive for most families—to access the same or similar opportunities.
Why do the Rebuilding Stronger zones not take actual income and accessibility of resources into account? Zone 2 remains dramatically over-resourced in comparison to the other three zones, not just in terms of established choice programs but also in financial means. Zone 2’s income disparity cannot be dismissed as inconsequential or unavoidable. We understand that the income metric used in developing this plan is the number of students eligible to receive free and reduced-price lunch. IPS directors made it clear at school-based meetings that this metric only captures the number of disadvantaged students, not the level of resources available to communities. A family of four earning $60,000 a year in Indianapolis and a family of four earning $600,000 per year are equally ineligible for free or reduced-price lunch, but the higher-earning family has access to a completely different set of resources. So while Zone 2 looks representative of Indianapolis as a whole because it encompasses roughly the same percentage of low income families, it also has the lion's share of resources because of its highest income earners. Ignoring this disparity perpetuates privilege.
Why are there so few schools located in the southwest corner of Zone 4 on the proposed map? Show us census data or other data about the number of residents in that area with school-aged children to justify it.
Why is the landmass of Zone 4 so huge? This suggests that many students in that zone will have to rely on bussing—which is an outsourced service that has not consistently proven reliable, especially at the crucial beginning of each academic year—or families will have to provide their own transportation to a school, which of course isn’t feasible for families without cars or access to public transportation. Geographic distance likewise makes the eastern edge of Zone 2 look questionable. Do families there really have equal access to those prized choice schools on the zone’s other edge, or did you just have to go that far away to find families with less means to create the appearance of equity?
Why are families living within walking distance of a school sometimes being assigned to a different zone, eliminating that nearby school as an option? We note this at Longfellow Middle School as well as elementary schools 54, 39, 69, 48, and 60. Can an exemption apply for families living within the defined walking distance of that school so that they may also elect to attend the school closest to home?
Why are students with disabilities being omitted from conversations about equity? What’s the plan for special services in each zone? It can’t be pushed off to determine later if this is a real conversation about equity and inclusion.
How will middle school faculty and other employees impacted by big change be motivated to stay in the district? It wasn’t long ago that many of them were required to move from traditional middle school structure to a K-8 or PreK-8 model. Now you’re asking them to upend again to return to a 6-8 building. And for some, possibly forcing a new curriculum or pedagogy on them as well. Likewise, how will faculty at existing neighborhood schools be involved in transitions to new programming? Will administrators, teachers, and families at these schools be valued in and after transition? How will you retain our already-exhausted teachers through so much change?
Why are all families going to be required to select a school? The Enroll Indy process has already proven difficult for many families to navigate or even access. That has been a frequent topic in conversations about failures of the choice model. So now everyone will be required to use it? How will this get effectively communicated to families, particularly the low income and multi language families that have struggled to understand and access the Enroll Indy process in the past?
What will be done with closed school buildings? Lastly, the closing of neighborhood schools opens an easy door for new charter schools to occupy those buildings without significant financial compensation to IPS. We’ll be honest that at this point we’re so confused about what “innovation school” means that families are deeply divided on how we feel about them. But if a closed IPS school pops back up in a year or two as a charter or innovation school without dramatically increasing IPS income or reducing IPS expenses—and if the new operator isn’t required to make building upgrades at their own expense to address the issues that supposedly caused IPS to close it in the first place—it’s hard to see that as a win for our community or its children.
In order to support the Rebuilding Stronger plan, our community needs to see action from IPS on the following items:
1. Develop a Zone Map that reflects equity by:
- using an income metric that identifies and addresses over-resourced areas.
- making zones of roughly equal size to establish equity in transportation times for students across the district and facilitate true neighborhood-school connectivity.
- ensuring all zones have equal access to established high-performing, high-demand programs by relocating more of the established programs or providing district-wide transportation to them.
2. Develop and describe the plan for providing equitable access to special services for children with disabilities before the plan goes to vote.
3. Develop and describe the plan for disseminating information about the enrollment process to families, including how access to Enroll Indy will be provided for families that do not have technology resources at home, before the plan goes to vote.
4. Develop and describe the plan for recruiting and retaining teachers to work in new 6–8 middle schools as well as ways in which existing administration and faculty in schools being merged will be engaged in establishing a new program, before the plan goes to vote.
5. Adopt an exception policy that will allow families living within specified walking distance of a school to choose that school, regardless of zone boundaries.
Awaiting Your Response
While this letter is not a comprehensive list of our concerns, your response to these items—in action, not in words alone—will be a starting point for real dialogue between IPS and the families it serves. Please spare us another polished public relations show and actually engage in conversation with us—not at us—about equity and sustainability.