Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) is comparing academic performance in public K-12 schools in its City Studies Project, a series that tracks academic performance growth in 10 major U.S. cities. CREDO Director Margaret Raymond said in a release that the findings are useful for stakeholders when assessing educational progress in city-to-city comparisons.
The first report, released this week, is on Indianapolis and finds that reading growth for the city's students was on par with the state average in 2014-15, but was weaker in 2015-16 and 2016-17. In math, Indianapolis students persistently posted weaker gains compared to state averages in all three comparison years.
Indianapolis charter school students’ results were similar compared to state averages, and race-based achievement gaps were also identified, with black students posting weaker growth than state averages and Hispanic students having similar growth in reading and weaker growth in math. Additionally, students in poverty, special education and English language learners (ELLs) showed less progress.
These studies provide valuable information for state and local education leaders to compare and contrast the effectiveness of similar education efforts across cities. Indianapolis, for example, has been touted as an argument in favor of school choice, with U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos even saying that she is looking to Indiana as a model for her current education agenda. The results of this report give policymakers objective data that can be used to assess whether Indianapolis’ school choice program is helping or hindering students, highlighting pitfalls to avoid or specific components worth focusing on.
Other cities set to be examined in future reports include: Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Camden, New Jersey; Kansas City, Missouri; Memphis, Tennessee; New Orleans, Louisiana; Oakland, California; St. Louis, Missouri; San Antonio, Texas; and Washington, D.C.
That last one is particularly notable, as Indianapolis' data could provide some insight as to what the direction of the District of Columbia's public schools might look like once former Indianapolis Public Schools superintendent Lewis Ferebee takes the reins. His time in Indianapolis was defined by the creation of an “innovation network” of charter and charter-like schools, earning him prominence in the school reform community. Reports like this can serve to either validate or discredit the effectiveness of those efforts.
The eventual report for D.C. should also provide an interesting point of comparison when it comes to the city's attempted major turnaround, which used data to assess teachers and provided monetary rewards. This method was originally touted as successful, but no checks and balances were in place, and it was later found that graduation numbers were artificially inflated to make it seem as though the rates were higher when nothing had changed.
Reports like the City Studies Project can ultimately provide a type of check and balance that can be used for assessing specific districts, providing another tool that leaders can use to gauge whether students are being well-served.