3 Ways Indianapolis is Modeling the Responsible Education Innovation Our Economy Needs


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Guest Blog

Amar Patel
Executive Director
Teach For America Indianapolis 


The significant pressure on our education system to prepare current and future generations to meet the needs of our workforce, for which 85% of jobs in 2030 are estimated to not even exist today, is reaching an all-time high.

Over the last 20 years, through globalization and technological advancements, we’ve collectively experienced revolutionary changes in how we engage with one another and our world. In Indiana, we’ve seen seismic shifts in two of our biggest industries – manufacturing and agriculture – through the development and implementation of new technologies and business models. Additionally, we’ve expanded and diversified our economy: today, Indiana is home to one of the largest life sciences industries in the nation, and we are attracting a growing number of tech companies and startups.

Following this exciting era of growth, our education system has not kept up. Fewer than half of students pass the ISTEP, nearly one third of students drop out of high school, and less than 20% graduate from college by the age of 25. Additionally, it’s estimated that in 2027, 65% of employees in Marion County will need a post-secondary credential, yet only 42% have one today, mirroring national statistics. On the whole, we have not innovated against the education model we created a century ago.

Fortunately, we have strong reason to be optimistic – and Indianapolis has emerged as a national leader for education innovation through developing the conditions, strategies, and talent necessary for the change our economy vitally needs.

Across numerous sectors, and across diverse perspectives, our city is asking the big questions and working toward meaningful progress together. We are forging partnerships, learning from one another, and identifying shared visions in pursuit of long-term, sustainable change. We are investing in responsible innovation.

Here are three ways our state and city are currently innovating to meet the needs of our evolving landscape: 

1. Expansion and flexibility of post-secondary education pathway opportunities

A college degree isn’t the only means for students to become productive citizens, and our city is connecting students to more diverse, alternative post-secondary options—and also considering how they could navigate different programs and still remain competitive:

  • Governor Holcomb announced that “developing a 21st century workforce is the defining issue of the decade” and is increasing funding both for residents to complete post-secondary credentials and for companies to recruit and train new workers in six of Indiana’s major sectors

  • The Indiana Department of Education recently underwent an overhaul of its graduation pathways, moving away from a “one-size-fits-all” approach to a more flexible and dynamic set of requirements

  • Through Mayor Joe Hogsett’s vision, and in partnership with Employ Indy, Indy Achieves was established last year to provide financial support, mentorship, and additional structures in ensuring we have 65% of Marion County residents earning post-secondary credentials by 2027

  • Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) launched career academies in all high schools, with a goal of ensuring all high school students were thinking about career options by 2020

  • New school models are coming to Indianapolis like BELIEVE Schools, a career preparatory high school where students “engage in a micro-society that will allow [them] to develop the necessary skills to be successful in the college or career path of their choice”

2. Innovative school models with promising gains in achievement

With a national student population that is today majority non-white, schools need to be more culturally responsive and differentiated to effectively meet all students’ diverse learning styles. Education institutions are investing in new curricular and structural school models that have strong potential and/or a track record of positive student gains:

  • IPS established innovation network schools in 2014, which are autonomous schools that are accountable to the district. The innovation network is “a blend of charter partners, restart schools, conversions, or new schools.” In the first academic report of these schools, data points to students gaining 53 more days of learning in reading and 89 more days of learning in math compared to like peers in traditional public schools

  • The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis non-profit that aims to improve public education for underserved students, has helped bring in and launch 24 schools and provided expert supports to more than 100 schools in the last 13 years

  • The Indianapolis Mayor’s Office is the only charter school-authorizing mayor’s office in the country and oversees 35 charter schools on 43 campuses 

3. More public school options and increased access to school information for all students and families

In preparing our rising generation to be adaptable and nimble to the growing changes in our economy, Indianapolis’ public school system has evolved to encompass more than 100 choice school options for parents and students to learn about and choose from.

  • Enroll Indy was launched in 2015, housing a streamlined application and enrollment system for more than 100 choice schools including district schools, innovation network schools, and charter schools, with information about each school and a lottery system that takes into account student preferences and priorities

  • Last year, about 8,500 families used Enroll Indy, which also canvasses and provides support services to inform students and families about their school options

These are just some of the ways our city has responded to the needs of our economy. As a source of high-impact, diverse leadership talent, Teach For America is proud to be a partner in this communal effort. We recruit, develop, and support a growing network of professionals, currently at 700, who are working in classrooms, schools, and every major sector in Indianapolis to realize the day when all Indianapolis children lead lives of their choosing and contribute to a more vibrant and just city.

We invite you to learn about some of these innovative efforts and more from our community partners and leaders by joining the upcoming “How to Build a City: Education Innovation” Burst Event on March 19, hosted by EDGE Mentoring and Citizen 7.

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