Indiana, a state where both student performance and minority achievement gaps approximate the national average, has been taking significant steps toward a promising educational future. With a scholarship tax credit program for low-income students in place since 2009, Indiana’s voucher program just finished enrolling nearly 4,000 students in its first year – setting a record for school voucher programs, according to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.
But the state’s innovations in the public charter school sector have been at least as impressive. Last year, Governor Mitch Daniels signed legislation establishing a statewide, independent charter school board with authority to approve and govern charters. The board adds a powerful new track to a system of multiple authorizers including local school boards, public state universities, and the mayor of Indianapolis. Multiple paths to charter approval, along with effective authorizers who are committed to establishing and maintaining quality schools, are proving to be two essential elements for fostering high-quality charter schools. With charter laws that allow schools strong operating freedom, Indiana’s legal framework is well equipped for a high-performing charter landscape.
The new state board was quick to act on this authority, approving its first six new charters last month. Two of these were proposals by exemplary Arizona charter schools: Carpe Diem, one of the nation’s most innovative blended learning models, and Basis, widely recognized as one of the nation’s top public high schools for its academic rigor and remarkable student achievement.
Indiana’s philanthropy community has also gotten behind the push for educational innovation in a serious way, providing another reason to believe the reforms may persevere. Carpe Diem has been invited to participate in the Mind Trust’s unique charter school incubator competition, which provides $1 million to each winning network of exceptional charter schools committed to serving Indianapolis families.
In selecting Carpe Diem, Indiana decisionmakers expressed a commitment to a unique instructional model that many believe represents a powerfully transformative future design for American education. Its blended learning system rotates students between self-paced online learning in cubicles and face-to-face classroom instruction. Students at its Yuma campus substantially outperform their peers at traditional public schools, which founder Rick Ogston attributes largely to his program’s flexible designs with customized options to match individual students’ needs. The constant, strategic use of real-time student data guides interventions daily. These “21st Century Best Practices” allow it to achieve this success operating on a budget that is approximately two-thirds of the average cost to taxpayers of traditional public schools.
Carpe Diem’s winning proposal plans to, “In the next five years . . . open six full-service blended learning schools as well as offer online learning, using our rigorous curriculum, throughout the entire state.” Notes founder Ogston, “We are excited to be a part of Indiana’s comprehensive education reform movement. . . Indiana has created a positive climate for innovative schools like Carpe Diem to replicate through education policy reform as well as extensive philanthropic, business and community support.” Other constituencies looking to increase their quality educational offerings, like Virginia, would be well served to pay attention.
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