Nearly half of Indiana's charter schools doing poorly or failing

The Indiana Math and Science Academy West is a charter school option sponsored by the mayor within the Indianapolis Public School district.
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Indiana charter schools are supposed to provide an alternative to failing public schools, but 13 Investigates has found they're not always living up to the grade.

In fact, nearly half of the state's 76 charter schools are doing poorly or failing.

The state's new accountability ratings show you what's really going on across Indiana and here in Marion County.

The Indiana Math and Science Academy West is a charter school option sponsored by the mayor within the Indianapolis Public School district.

13 Investigates found a chorus of praise by parents in the pickup line.

"My little ones are off the chain! They were at an IPS school last year," said Dorothy Brown, who was talking about the progress of her three children who attend the school.

"I love it," added Jennifer Barahona. "I just love the teachers. I have a good relationship with all of them. No complaints," she said.

But insiders at IMSA West told 13 Investigates a different story, saying:

"Nothing is taught...nothing is learned" with "unlicensed teachers." The tipster is speaking of the "Teach for America" staff members that come and go causing high turnover. And the tipster said the school is "still without textbooks."

A middle school math teacher and the assistant principal confirm 17 teachers left last school year.

As for the book supply?

"Science is a little short, but we use online so we have 60 online text books for them," the math teacher told 13 Investigates during a conversation outside of the facility.

In 2013, IMSA was deemed a failing school by the Indiana Department of Education.

None of the parents we spoke with were aware of the rating.

"No I didn't," said Cat, a mother of a kindergartner.

"Wow I am shocked. I didn't know that," admitted Barahona.

"Well..I mean everybody deserves a second chance," added Gloria Whitener, who's grandchild goes to the Academy.

See school accountability grades here.

Under state policy, every school does get a second chance. IMSA West improved and is now a C-rated school.

"We worked really hard at getting our scores up," the IMSA math teacher revealed.

It's just one of four charter schools statewide to get a "C" in 2014.

Our investigation found the majority of charters, 33 of them, performing poorly or failing.

And about half of those struggling schools are in Indianapolis. Eight of the "D" and "F" schools are sponsored by the mayor's office.

"They face very difficult circumstances," said city spokesman Marc Lotter. "We know that in some cases they are dealing with difficult students and they've got to get caught up," he told 13 Investigates.

"Something is drastically wrong within the culture of the school," explained Dr. Brad Oliver who is on the State Board of Education. "You see very strained relationships. You see blame game going on. It's an unhealthy environment where nobody feels good," he said, describing a failing school.

Oliver said the group is trying to do a better job rating charter schools. This year only five are rated excellent.

Those failing year after year, not only get a second chance but can fail six consecutive years before the state steps in.

"I struggle with that because that's half of a student's time," he told 13 Investigates.

Oliver admits state accountability brings pressure.

He says schools like Flanner House Elementary, which was shut down amid a cheating scandal, raise red flags when test scores go from F to A overnight.

"Unfortunately we live in an era of high-stakes accountability," Oliver added.

Like it or not, Oliver believes school grades indicate how schools are doing.

In the case of Indiana's charter schools, there's plenty of room for improvement.

"I think what I've seen in the State of Indiana is a greater intentional focus on trying to improve schools." he said.

Schools making a turnaround like IMSA West.

"It's kind of hard to fail...and they put a lot into their students," said Dorothy Brown, who's happy with what she has seen.

Two of the mayor's failing charter schools, Andrew Academy and Padua Academy, are both set to close next year. Generally, the mayor's office says it gives schools a two-year improvement plan before more drastic measures are taken.

Overall the mayor's office said 50 percent of its portfolio of charters are above average.

Outside of Marion County, 13 Investigates found the Options Charter School in Noblesville now in its fifth consecutive year of failing. Its sponsor could decide to pull that charter. But under the state's rules, it still has one last year to make improvement.

76 Indiana Charter Schools:

Grade A - 16 Schools

B - 8 Schools

C - 4 Schools

D - 16 Schools

F - 17 Schools

(15 Schools were not rated as new startups or other unique criteria)

37 Marion County Charter Schools

Grade A - 5 Schools

B - 5 Schools

C - 3 Schools

D - 8 Schools

F - 8 Schools

(8 Schools were not rated as new startups or other unique criteria)

Failing Marion County Charters Include:

Fall Creek Academy

Andrew J. Brown Academy (Mayor Sponsored School)
Andrew Academy (Mayor Sponsored School Closing 2015)
Padua Academy (Mayor Sponsored School Closing 2015)
Imagine Indiana Life Science West Hoosier Academy Virtual Charter Excel Center for Adult Learners Damar Charter Academy

Overall Indiana Schools Show Improvement:

ISTEP+ increases - 68.2% in 2009 to 74% in 2013

Advanced Placement Gains - Participation increased from 28.9 in 2009 to 32.6 in 2012. Additionally, the percentage of students passing increased from 12.2% in 2009 to 14.8% in 2012.

High School Graduation Rate Increases - 82.7% in 2009 to 88.3% in 2013

"A" School Increases - The number of schools receiving an "A" letter grade has grown from 670 in 2012 to 806 in 2013.

"F" School Decreases - The number of schools receiving an "F" letter grade have dropped from 131 in 2012 to 100 in 2013.