Citywide Education Progress Report

Key Takeaways: System Reforms

Indianapolis Public Schools, the mayor’s office, and charter authorizers are being increasingly strategic about managing the city’s supply of schools. Efforts are underway to improve family engagement and teacher pipelines, but both areas require continued focus.


Is the education strategy rooted in the community?


Is the whole community engaged? Education is a citywide endeavor. When families, community organizations, and city leaders have the opportunity to provide feedback and share in the vision, the strategy is more likely to be sustainable and meet the needs of all students. In this goal, we look at how well the city is doing with engaging key stakeholders.


► Is there a strong and deep coalition of support for the education strategy?

The current education strategy has strong support and alignment among most civic and education leadership. The Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) district superintendent and current school board are generally aligned in their vision for the city. Both enjoy support from the mayor’s office, local funders, and The Mind Trust, a local nonprofit. Some resistance to the strategy exists, especially around issues like the recent closures, but so far it has not been consistent or particularly active. However, IPS recently postponed a referendum vote on funding, likely because they must better promote the referendum to the community ahead of a vote. But it may indicate that there is more resistance to the strategy than is currently apparent. IPS is working to engage groups that were previously underrepresented in strategic shifts in the education strategy.


► Are a variety of groups engaged in education?

Several groups are engaged in education, including the NAACP, The Mind Trust (a “quarterback” organization), church groups, and Stand for Children, a multistate nonprofit with a team focused on the city. Parent advocacy efforts are active, as are groups representing the city’s historically disadvantaged populations. The Mind Trust plays a significant role in bringing groups together with community, district, and civic leaders.


► Does the city engage families in educational decisions that impact them?

IPS and the mayor’s office hold community meetings about prospective school openings and closings, and manage operator-to-neighborhood matching processes. Innovation Network schools in particular have incorporated parent testimony to inform school design and guide restarts. IPS used a high-touch engagement strategy in the process to close three high schools, and while the choices were still controversial, remaining options were informed by community input. However, community members report that some families still believe they are not getting needed information about school changes or that their input is not shaping decisions.


► Does the education system respond to community feedback?

Education nonprofits host community panels and co-host events to talk to the community about education issues. There appears to be a disconnect, however, between efforts made by education leaders and how those efforts are received. Over the past year, IPS has worked, with assistance from The Mind Trust, to help community members understand changes in strategy, but interviews with community members indicate that rapid system changes can be challenging to track. While education leaders are engaging families around big initiatives, community members still do not perceive that there are regular opportunities to provide feedback or understand how their input has shaped strategy.

Is the education system continuously improving?


Do schools have the resources they need? School improvement happens at the school level, but making sure resources are available requires sound, citywide policy. Having the right talent in a city is critical for schools to be able to provide students with a quality education. Schools should also have control over their budgets so they have the resources to address the needs of their student population.


► Do schools have the kinds of leaders they need?

The pool of leadership talent is generally good, and strategies are in place to develop leaders citywide and help them open new charter and district Innovation Network schools. IPS also partnered with Education Resource Strategies to prepare district principals to lead autonomous schools by guiding them through the strategic school design process. Efforts are underway to further improve leadership pipelines by refining internal pathways and developing new partnerships with external organizations. Work is still needed to match leaders to schools.


► Does funding equitably follow students?

As of 2017-2018, the district allocates between 5% and 50% of its budget via a student-based allocation formula. In the 2017-2018 school year, IPS expanded its student-based allocation formula to all schools. Charter and Innovation schools will receive the same state and federal tuition support.


► Do schools have the kinds of teachers they need?

IPS does not lack teachers, but quality, fit, and high turnover rates across schools remain a challenge; the district is addressing this through several strategies. It works more closely with traditional teacher preparation programs and gives principals more control over hiring so teachers are better matched to schools. IPS also partnered with TNTP, TFA, TeachPlus, and others to recruit and train teachers. Local institutions are building quality talent pipelines: Marian University developed a new residency program in partnership with local charter schools and districts, and a local charter network created its own teacher preparation program. IPS has data to drive strategies, but charter data is largely anecdotal. IPS, The Mind Trust, and the mayor’s office recently launched a new “Teach Indy” campaign to recruit teachers and help them find positions in both district and charter schools (though IPS is currently under a hiring freeze).

Do students have access to a high-quality education?


Do school choice and supply meet family needs? This goal addresses how well the city is doing with providing families access to quality schools. We look at what the city is doing to ensure quality schools are in every neighborhood, and how well the choice process is working for families who want to use it.


► Does the school supply represent an array of models?

About a third of recently opened, restarted, or expanded schools in IPS and the charter sector offer nontraditional instructional models, such as project-based, dual language, or alternative programs. Among families surveyed in 2017, nearly half said there was a great deal of programmatic variety between schools. However, about a quarter of families still struggle to find a school that is a good fit for their child.


► Is the city strategically managing its school portfolio?

IPS uses enrollment data to gauge community interest in school openings and performance data to identify candidates for restart as Innovation Network schools. In 2017-18, IPS overhauled their high school program by closing three high schools due to underenollment and reconstituted the remaining four into all-choice college and career magnet schools. The city’s largest authorizers have begun meeting with IPS to evaluate school supply and demand data so charter schools can more consistently open where high-quality options are needed, but opportunities for space and buildings remain a barrier to strategically siting charter schools. The mayor’s office, IPS, and The Mind Trust also have a partnership to incubate new school options. Nearly half of families surveyed in 2017 say they have confidence that the city can ensure every neighborhood has a good school.


► Do families have the information they need and know how to use it?

Information is available in a consolidated guide for IPS schools and the city’s charter schools through Enroll Indy. The guide is only available online, and does not provide consistent information about school curriculum or special education and English language learner services. In 2017, community leaders reported that many families were unaware of the information, and of families surveyed in 2017, 18% say that finding enough information about schools is a challenge, with district school families reporting this as more of a problem than charter school families. Over the first year of implementation, education leaders focused on messaging and outreach to the community and believe that this has helped families connect with the resource.


► Is the enrollment process working for families?

A unified enrollment system, Enroll Indy, launched during the 2017-18 school year. This independent organization was created in partnership with IPS, the Indianapolis mayor’s office, and the Indianapolis Charter School Board. It includes IPS and 90% of Indianapolis’ charter schools. Schools from surrounding districts may be added later. Enroll Indy has a unified series of deadlines for all school types and provides one match for applications. The system aligns application processes, but many IPS schools still use neighborhood assignment: schools opt into open enrollment and some have application criteria, limiting access for students. CRPE surveyed families prior to Enroll Indy and found that nearly a fifth reported difficulty understanding which schools their child was eligible to attend. Even with an enrollment system in place, the city must educate families about school eligibility and choice.


► Is transportation working for families?

IPS recently expanded its transportation system to provide better access to schools outside neighborhood zones, but still, not all students have access to any school, and not all charter schools are eligible. This is in part because charter schools do not have access to local funds used by the district for transportation, and no city agency subsidizes public transportation for students. Transportation was among the top challenges reported by families during the application process. In our 2017 survey, 30% of charter school families reported it as a problem, while 15% of district school families did. Indianapolis leaders are exploring a student shuttle modeled after Denver’s “Success Express.”

Data & Scoring

Where did we get this information?

► Interviews with district, charter, and community leaders

► Policy documents from district, charter, and state websites

► School data from each city

► A 400-parent survey administered in March, 2017 in Cleveland, Denver, Indianapolis, Memphis, New Orleans, Oakland, and Washington, D.C.

How did we score the
system reforms and goals?

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. See the Methodology & Resources page for details.

Score Levels


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