Soon all eyes will be on Indy…but there is more there than college hoops: The mayor in Indianapolis, Bart Peterson, is quietly leading an education revolution there. He’s the only mayor in the country with the authority to charter schools and he’s using it judiciously but aggressively to open new public schools there (pdf).* He’s been willing to say no to friends, yes to political adversaries, and keep relentlessly focused on what works for kids. It’s an interesting political story that has almost entirely escaped the attention of the press outside of Indy. Substantively it’s driving change in the community there and it’s helped make him wildly popular in a state and city that isn’t easy for Democrats (he’s the first D mayor since ’67). From his state of the city speech:
Our existing charter schools are already transforming lives. I recently met Desmond Williams, a seventh grader at Andrew J. Brown Academy. As Desmond tells it, before he started at Andrew J. Brown, he had a lot of problems at school. Academically he was way behind and he was often in trouble. Today Desmond is a model student. And after just 2 and a half years, his test scores show that he is on grade level in both reading and math. Overall, the progress at Andrew J. Brown is extraordinary – the average two year increase in ISTEP scores among Andrew J. Brown Academy fifth graders was 48 percent!
The percentage of students in all mayor-sponsored charter schools passing the ISTEP test from 2003 to 2005 increased, on average, by 25 percent! By contrast, statewide scores increased by about 1 percent.
A key to the success of Indianapolis’ charter schools is the rigorous review all schools that apply undergo, and our accountability system that is regarded as among the nation’s very best. Decatur Township Superintendent Don Stinson, who partnered with my office to launch a mayor-sponsored charter school, described the expert site team review his school recently went through as the most useful, results-focused school review he’s been a part of.
*The data in this report are now dated. Current data at the mayor’s website.