The Lilly Endowment has awarded $44.3 million in grants to the Indianapolis schools and 10 surrounding districts, hoping that the aid can facilitate a wide range of improvements to help Indiana battle low test scores, disappointing college-completion rates, and other indicators of academic struggle.
The biggest chunk of money will go to the Indianapolis public schools. The 41,300-student district will use the $16.4 million it will receive to set up a system of teaching mentors and instructional coaches to improve teachers’ skills, develop an online curriculum for students who do not thrive in traditional classrooms, and find new ways to evaluate the success of its programs.
One feature of the Indianapolis grant, announced late last month, is an attempt to improve students’ readiness for two important transitional years, 1st and 6th grades.
The district will pilot a “dual-teacher classrooms” program, in which one designated classroom at each of five middle schools will be chosen to have two teachers. The teachers can deploy themselves in shifting patterns according to the needs of the class, said Gerald McLeish, a co-director of the district’s office of school transformation, who worked on the grant proposal. They could team-teach, or one could lead in presenting a lesson while the other provided support to students who need it.
Easing the Transition
The idea of focusing extra energy on 6th grade emerged from strong teacher feedback that the transition years into elementary, middle, and high school require extra attention, Mr. McLeish said.
To respond to that view, the Indianapolis district also designed a program called Targeted Time on Task, which will be financed by the Lilly grant. The full-day summer program will focus on literacy. Transportation, breakfast, and lunch will be provided. It is aimed at entering 1st graders who have never attended school before— Indiana has no mandatory kindergarten—and need to boost their skills.
Nancy Beatty, the district’s kindergarten facilitator, said between 700 and 1,000 of the children eligible for kindergarten—20 to 25 percent of that age group—do not enroll each year, largely because the district offers no midday transportation and too few programs to fill the other half of the day.
As a result, working parents find it difficult to enroll children in kindergarten, she said, increasing the likelihood that 1st graders will need extra help. Evidence of the problem includes the fact that 1st grade retention rates are 10 percent to 12 percent, four times the rate for other grades, Ms. Beatty said.
“We are very eager to see if this program can create stronger learners in 1st grade,” she said. “If it does, it will be worth every cent.”
Combined, the $44.3 million in grants will affect all 11 Marion County districts, which serve 110,000 students.
Gretchen Wolfram, spokeswoman for the Indianapolis- based Lilly Endowment, said the private foundation hopes to reverse the “embarrassing and unacceptable” ranking of Indiana at close to the bottom among states in SAT scores and in the number of adults who hold college degrees.
To improve the state’s educational profile, the foundation has invested heavily in colleges and college-preparation programs, community scholarship programs, and efforts to smooth school-to-work and high school-to- college connections, she said.
It also awarded $24.1 million in July to 14 private schools and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis to improve education.