This study is examining several aspects of charter school creation and operation in Indianapolis, the only city in the country where the mayor has independent control over charter school authorization and accountability. This research examines the political and policymaking context of charter school adoption and its effect on the broader capacity for education reform in the city. Indianapolis represents an interesting case in that it differs from mayoral “take over” analyses of urban education reforms in other cities. Using interviews, surveys and other qualitative methods, the research team is conducting case studies of four charter schools to examine such issues as how the mayor’s charter school accountability structure and the larger policy environment impact the development, implementation, and operation of charter school programs. This study also involves an investigation into which charter school structures and processes are related to student outcomes. This work has examined several issues: the organizational conditions in charter schools and comparison districts that promote achievement; the alignment of curriculum and instructional practices to standards and assessments; parental choice preferences and involvement; student perceptions of schooling; mobility of families and students among school types; and student achievement trends. To address these issues, the researchers have worked with local organizations to obtain survey data from principals, teachers, parents, and students.
The work of this project is ongoing. Findings so far indicate that new policy communities have arisen around creation of the Indianapolis charters involving politicians, business leaders and nonprofit organizations and that the charter schools may be exerting competitive pressure on local public schools to try curricular and structural innovations. The research has also found that students who switch to charter schools in Indianapolis experience positive gains in both math and reading compared with their gains trajectories in traditional public schools, on average. Additional early findings are that student perceptions of social capital vary greatly across Indianapolis charter schools but that students who report higher levels of social capital also report greater engagement in school.