Celebrating Education Innovation: 20 Years of Indianapolis Charter Schools
By Brandon Brown, CEO of The Mind Trust
When we look back at the last 16 years of The Mind Trust, one thing is clear: systemic change takes time, persistence, and a passionate community. Our organization was founded by leaders who believed the status quo wasn’t good enough for Indianapolis students and knew old systems needed to be transformed.
Today, we are proud to continue the vision of ensuring every Indianapolis student – no exceptions – has access to a great school. I am excited to invite you to Celebrating Education Innovation on Friday, November 4, where we will honor the people who are making a difference for students and families in our community.
The first charter schools opened in Indianapolis in 2002. The original 2001 charter school law in Indiana took several years to get passed. There were a lot of fits and starts and a lot of folks working on it across multiple years. But the magic behind the law that ultimately passed was that you had state-level leaders working with the Mayor of Indianapolis. You had Republicans and Democrats coming together to acknowledge the existing system was not working for all kids.
Collectively, state and local leadership realized we needed to try something new because the existing system was not working, especially for marginalized students. Passing the 2001 charter school law was really a story of persistence. It required folks across the political spectrum coming together to try something new.
Unlocking the Potential of Autonomous Schools
Throughout the whole process, perhaps the most tireless advocate of them all was Teresa Lubbers. I don’t think it is hyperbole to say we may not have gotten a charter school law without her tireless work to shepherd that bill through the legislature and get so much buy-in from both political parties. Honestly, if it wasn’t for Teresa Lubbers, The Mind Trust wouldn’t exist. If not for Teresa Lubbers, charter schools wouldn’t exist in Indiana. Take Teresa Lubbers out of the Indianapolis story and there is no Indianapolis story. She has been an irreplaceable catalyst for the dynamic education movement that has grown up over the past 20 years in our city.
I believe Teresa Lubbers worked so hard to get charter schools in Indianapolis because she understood the beauty of charter schools and the massive potential they held to upend an unjust education system. Let me explain. When I think about the key conditions at the school level that give a school the maximum chance of success, it really comes down to three things. One, a great school leader. Two, autonomy at the leadership level to make decisions as close to kids as possible. And three, accountability to ensure the school is held to meeting rigorous outcomes.
Take Teresa Lubbers out of the Indianapolis story and there is no Indianapolis story. She has been an irreplaceable catalyst for the dynamic education movement that has grown up over the past 20 years in our city.Brandon Brown, CEO
At The Mind Trust, we see charter schools as marrying those three ideas in a cohesive structure. That has driven our strategic priorities ever since our founding in 2006. We think that by growing more charter schools to increase the number of students served under these conditions, more students will be empowered to succeed academically.
How Charter Schools Address Educational Inequity
I think a lot about 20 years ago prior to the first Indianapolis charter school opening its doors. The reality was that the vast majority of public school students were zoned into the school that was closest to their home. This is a brazen example of education inequity. We were forcing Black and Latino students into persistently underfunded, underperforming schools simply based on the neighborhood they lived in.
If you fast-forward 20 years, there are a plethora of really innovative, high-performing school options that are meeting the individual needs of kids and families in our community. No longer are families trapped without the wherewithal to pursue the school that will best fit their needs. The number of authentically quality options and innovations in school model is really profound and is proving what is possible, particularly when it comes to educating students of color and low-income students.
For the last number of years, The Mind Trust has been focused on school incubation and working with outstanding leaders who have a track record of success to launch new schools. Simultaneously, we’ve also emphasized cross-sector collaboration between the charter school sector and the Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) district. The partnership and collaboration we’ve helped foster is nationally unique. It’s not happening anywhere else in the country and it really hearkens back to the opportunity created by the 2014 Innovation School law.
Letting the Community Guide Our Work
I think one of the biggest lessons The Mind Trust has learned over the years of implementing our Fellowships and wider school incubation work is that great ideas created in a vacuum may sound incredible but they won’t produce outcomes without community support.
One of The Mind Trust’s guiding core values is “Community”. Keeping that top of mind means ensuring our work is consistent with what folks in our community want for their kids.Brandon Brown, CEO
It’s not productive or equitable to create ideas in an ivory tower and expect the community to go along with them. We have to make sure that we are in the community, that our team reflects the community, and that we’re constantly asking the community what it wants to be true for itself. One of The Mind Trust’s guiding core values is “Community”. Keeping that top of mind means ensuring our work is consistent with what folks in our community want for their kids.
I think we are seeing the synergy and accelerated outcomes that happen when you match community desires to a landscape-wide strategy. Just this summer, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) released a study on school performance in our city. It once again shows that students who attend charter schools are making significantly more academic progress compared to their peers at traditional public schools. For example, if you are a Black student attending an Indianapolis charter school, you achieve 80 additional days of learning in reading and 140 additional days of learning in math every single year.
If you think about the K-12 academic career of a child, those learning days compound year after year. Over time, what happens is that if you attend a charter school K-12 in Indianapolis, you’re going to end up receiving several more years of learning relative to your peers who don’t attend charters. That’s literally life-changing.
Striving to Provide an Excellent Education For All
Even with this growing body of evidence that indicates charter and Innovation Network schools support more academic progress than other school types, we cannot be satisfied. The Mind Trust is determined to continue pushing the envelope on school performance. That leads me to our current strategic plan goal. It’s big, it’s audacious, yet it’s no less than what our students deserve. It is this: to at least triple the number of students within center township who are academically proficient by 2027.
I believe that if we don’t focus on education, we’re just attacking symptoms instead of root causes.Brandon Brown, CEO
Why focus so heavily on education and student proficiency in particular? I believe it comes back to what kind of city we aspire to be. If we want to be a world-class city, the education system has to be our focus. I believe that if we don’t focus on education, we’re just attacking symptoms instead of root causes.
I work hard every day because I want to live in a city that is truly just and equitable. A city that provides outstanding opportunities for all kids regardless of race or socioeconomic status. We aren’t there yet. So I’m going to keep working. I hope you’ll keep working with me.
I also hope you can join us on November 4 for an incredible event to celebrate education innovation. The evening will feature a fireside chat with Marlin Jackson and Tamika Catchings alongside honoring Teresa Lubbers. Tickets are on sale now.