Citywide Education Progress Report


Key Takeaways: June 2018

Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS), the largest of 11 school districts in the city, is undergoing rapid, systemwide changes to increase school autonomy and parent choice. IPS has several prominent partners, including the mayor’s office, that authorize charter schools, and nonprofits that provide enrollment and education support. Conditions are ripe for innovation and improvement, but IPS education leaders and the mayor’s office must do more to help the community not only navigate these changes, but ensure the community—along with top leadership—understands and is committed to the changes. Across all charter schools and the 11 districts, school performance remains flat, and student access to advanced coursework in high schools is not equitable. Other district townships surrounding IPS may join in school improvement and reform efforts as they gain ground.


System Reforms

Is the education strategy
rooted in the community?

Broad support Exemplar
Variety of groups Exemplar
City engages families Good
System is responsive Developing

Is the education system
continuously improving?

Right leaders Good  
Equitable funding Good
Right teachers Developing

Do students have access
a high-quality education?

Array of school models Good
Strategic school supply Good
Families have information Good
Enrollment is working Good
Transportation is working Developing

Each indicator is scored with a rubric on a 4-point scale. We added the scores for the indicators to get an overall goal score. An arrow shows increase or decrease from the 2017 score.

Looking Deeper

Challenges Ahead

Sustaining commitment to the district’s new vision

Under the leadership of the current board and superintendent, IPS has begun to pave the way toward transformation through its work on developing school-based autonomy and reorienting the central office to support more flexible school options. Interviewees indicate that the superintendent has worked hard to align and connect top district leaders to the new strategy, but are concerned that a real commitment and understanding of the new autonomy strategy does not exist yet beyond this top level of leadership. Despite agreements supporting existing Innovation Network Schools, many of the new shifts toward choice and school-level autonomy are still nascent and vulnerable to future leadership change, as we have seen in other cities. To establish stability and coherence of the transformations that IPS has worked hard to achieve, top leaders and board members must commit to ensuring that community members, families, and district staff down to the school level understand the theory behind the changes and understand how they can be part of it. As noted below, district leaders must also develop clear plans for school-based autonomy and focus on shifting organizational culture among teachers and school leaders to support these changes from the bottom up.

► Improving communication and engagement so communities are not left behind

As part of IPS’ transformation, families now have more opportunities to participate in strategy decisions, but interviews with community members indicate that many still feel left out of these changes. IPS and the mayor’s office can address this in three ways: improve the feedback loop with families, increase its capacity to effectively engage with families, and hold meetings closer to where families live. Not all of this has to be done by IPS: they can build partnerships with existing neighborhood groups or local community leaders who can discuss education changes with families and then report family issues, like concerns about school lunches or safety, back to IPS. The charter sector and IPS must make sure they have the capacity and structures to sustain engagement by investing in dedicated staff and creating  goals around how they want to engage and what success will look like. The strategies used to engage community in the development of new Innovation schools can be used as a blueprint for sustained engagement with other IPS schools.

Moving to a system of autonomous schools

IPS must develop a coherent vision for school autonomy. This includes defining the skills needed for school and central office leaders to succeed in their new roles and identifying which academic and operational autonomies are available to school leaders. This year, discretion over a greater proportion of funds were moved to the school level, so IPS must work to support school leaders in understanding service options and using these flexibilities well. Similarly, establishing a standard menu of school autonomies from which a school can choose, as is partially in place for Innovation schools, would provide a degree of standardization for systemwide school autonomy and relieve the district of negotiating individual school contracts. As the network of autonomous schools expands, talent will become a more pressing issue. The nonprofit The Mind Trust helps the city incubate new school leaders, and IPS has provided support for 18 principals to develop new school designs and effectively use autonomy. Next steps for IPS will be to reorient and retrain central office staff and services to support a system of autonomous schools.


Incentivizing Excellent Teachers to Mentor Peers and Teach More Students 

In the 2017-18 school year, 15 IPS schools began to implement Opportunity Culture, a program that provides higher pay to effective teachers in exchange for mentoring teachers or instructing more students.

Unlike in many schools, where good teachers may move into honors or advanced courses that teach fewer students, the Opportunity Culture program incentivizes effective teachers to reach as many as a third more students. In keeping with IPS’s school autonomy strategy, school teams chose an Opportunity Culture model from a menu of options developed by the nonprofit Public Impact.

Education leaders in IPS are hopeful that the strategy can bolster teacher recruitment and retention efforts. One school in the program hopes that it will help them retain effective teachers who, like in many district or charter schools, leave urban classrooms to pursue teaching opportunities in other schools or school administration positions.

Allowing Schools to Choose from a Menu of District Resources

Indianapolis’ improvement strategy is centered around creating more school-based autonomy and choice. A key piece of this work, and a creative new approach to district-charter partnership, is the expansion of “Innovation Network” schools.

Thanks to a state law passed in 2014, IPS  can open new schools, or restart existing district or charter schools as schools governed by nonprofit boards with charter-like autonomies. These schools remain part of the district for enrollment, accountability, and planning purposes and have full control over curriculum, talent, operations, and use of funds allocated through IPS’ student-based allocation system, but have access to district programs and services as they choose.

Many of these schools are the product of a partnership between IPS and The Mind Trust, which provides a school incubator program for promising leaders.

The role of these Innovation Network schools is growing within IPS and currently represents 16 schools—nearly one quarter of district enrollment.

Student and School Outcomes

The city is slightly above the national average when it comes to how well it educates low-income students. However, racial and ethnic sub-groups are not proportionately enrolled in advanced math coursework.

► Low-income students in the city are performing better in math and reading than low-income students nationally. EEI scores have improved 4% over time.

In 2013-14, black students were enrolled in advanced math coursework at lower rates than the high school population while white students were enrolled at higher rates.

Data are for all charter and district schools within the municipal boundary. The EEI score is from Education Cities and coursework data are from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, Civil Rights Data Collection. See Methodology & Resources for more detail.


About Indianapolis

Indianapolis has 11 public districts; the most prominent, Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS), includes about a third of all schools citywide. Reform efforts are beginning in IPS with the potential to extend to outer township districts. IPS is rapidly building out a system of autonomous schools that gives leaders more decisionmaking authority to adjust curriculum, make staffing decisions, and control the budget. The mayor’s office is a significant player as a charter authorizer. A local nonprofit, The Mind Trust, supports collaboration efforts and has incubated third-party organizations that offer education services.

School Choice in the City

Indianapolis families have a diverse set of options within the city, including charter schools and IPS magnets, Innovation, and alternative schools. Six of the ten surrounding townships provide choice based on capacity to families living outside of the district. IPS assigns a default neighborhood school for K–8, which families must opt out of if they wish to attend a different school.

Governance Model

Indianapolis Public Schools is one among 11 school districts within the city’s municipal boundary. The mayor’s office is the main charter authorizer.

2015 District and Charter Student Body

Enrollment: 150,145 students
Race and ethnicity: 37% white, 37% black, 18% Hispanic, 8% other
Low-income: 67% free and reduced-price lunch

2017 School Composition 

Source: Enrollment data from EDFacts, 2014-15.
School data from researcher analysis of public records, 2016-17.

The Center on Reinventing Public Education is a research and policy analysis center at the University of Washington Bothell developing systemwide solutions for K–12 public education. Questions? Email