Blog | September 22, 2021

Widening Educational Inequities Call for More Than a Return to Normal

child focusing on computer while sitting at desk

By Brandon Brown, The Mind Trust’s CEO

While the significant drops in English Language Arts (ELA) and math ILEARN proficiency rates are not surprising, they still are disheartening. We should acknowledge what the results reveal and act to ensure student learning is accelerated, particularly for Black and Latino students and students from low-income households.  

To accomplish this, we must continue investing in bold, system-wide strategies that can accelerate student learning, expand access to schools that are serving students equitably, and partner with families and our community to ensure strategies are informed by those most impacted by educational inequities. We disservice all Hoosier students if we allow the education system to return to the pre-pandemic status quo. 

ILEARN Results Show Widening Inequities and the Promise of Autonomy

While percentage point drops on ILEARN look comparable across subgroups, the already low proficiency rates for students of color mean the actual percentage drops were significantly larger for Black and Latino students than for white students. For example, only half as many Black students in grades 3-8 are proficient in 2021 when compared to 2019. 

Knowing the pandemic significantly disrupted instruction, The Mind Trust and United Way of Central Indiana partnered earlier this year to accelerate student learning through the Indy Summer Learning Labs. This free, five-week program provided high-quality academic instruction and enrichment activities meant to advance learning for close to 4,000 students at 39 sites across Marion County. We believe the Labs and similar initiatives can have a meaningful impact on learning outcomes for students.

In addition to creating more out-of-school opportunities for learning, we must increase high-quality school options that meet student and family needs. In Indianapolis, Black students are three times more likely to be proficient if they attend an independent charter school when compared to their peers in traditionally-managed schools. Latino students are twice as likely to be proficient in ELA and math if they attend an independent charter school when compared to their peers. 

Additionally, the proficiency gap between Black students and their white peers in grades 3-8 who are enrolled in charter and Innovation Network Schools is significantly lower than those same gaps in traditional public schools. Disproportionate outcomes are unacceptable wherever they occur. Yet the promise of autonomous schools in Indianapolis is undeniable and is a strategy that we can double down on to lead toward the type of proficiency outcomes our students deserve. 

ISTEP+ Results Highlight High School Progress

ISTEP+ results are clear: autonomous public schools provide strong, innovative options for high school students. While schools taking ILEARN experienced almost universal drops in proficiency, high schools in Indiana improved on 2019 ISTEP+ scores by 2.6 percentage points. Black students attending Innovation Network or charter high schools in Indianapolis are three times more likely to be proficient as compared to Black students attending direct-run IPS high schools. 

Notably, nine of the top 10 public high schools within IPS boundaries are Innovation Network and charter schools. Looking farther afield, across all 11 Marion County school districts, four of the seven top performing public high schools are charter and IPS Innovation Network schools. I want to take a moment to shout out each of these four schools: Herron High School, Purdue Polytechnic High School North, Riverside High School, and Purdue Polytechnic High School Downtown. Three of them are led by former The Mind Trust Fellows, two of whom are leaders of color. 

All Indianapolis students deserve the opportunity to experience a school setting that works for them. The Mind Trust is proud to support the launch of three more public schools this fall: Herron Preparatory Academy, Paramount Online Academy, and Promise Prep. Paramount Online Academy joins Phalen Virtual Learning Academy in offering another high-quality virtual option to Indianapolis families in partnership with Indianapolis Public Schools.

Addressing Inequities with Urgency

This year’s state assessment results create even more urgency to dramatically improve educational outcomes for students in Indianapolis. This is particularly true when it comes to addressing continuing inequities for Black, Latino, and low-income students of all races. 

The pandemic wreaked havoc on many of our communities and caused massive instability within the education system. Nonetheless, we must remain more committed than ever to collaborate with our community to provide the educational opportunities that all of our children deserve.