A 2011 town hall at Tindley School in Indianapolis, with then-Gov. Mitch Daniels (R), left, and then-U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan (YouTube)

“College or Die.”

That’s the motto of the Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School, a charter school in Indiana which, according to its website,  “expects 100% of its students to be accepted at a fully-accredited four-year college or university” and “to achieve exceptionally high levels of scholarship and citizenship.”

The words “College or Die” are posted in giant letters in a hallway of Tindley, an open-enrollment charter school for grades six through 12 that opened in 2004 in a former grocery store in a low-income area of Indianapolis. It became well known in school reform circles when it was visited in 2011 by then-Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) and then-U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who heaped lavish praise on the school for its success in getting students into college.

This is what else Tindley says on its website:

It’s clear when you walk in the door: the Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School isn’t like other schools.

Some of the differences are obvious, like the school uniforms. Others are subtler, like the way each classroom is named for a prestigious college. It all serves a single purpose: to help each of our students gain admittance into a highly selective college or university.

The Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School approach to education is best summed up by three bold words: College or Die. Other schools might not feel comfortable using such strong language. But again, Tindley isn’t like other schools.

It also says:

It’s extremely hard work, but the reward is worth the effort. When all is said and done, every one of our graduates comes away prepared to succeed at a high-quality 4-year college.

Note the wording. The school’s purpose is to help every student go to college. But only graduates are ready for a high-quality college.

Here’s what it doesn’t say: A lot of students leave the school before they get to senior year. Here’s an enrollment chart from the Indiana Department of Education:


(Indiana Department of Education)

As noted by educator and blogger Gary Rubinstein, Tindley had 93 students in ninth grade in 2013-2014. By the time that cohort got to 12th grade, only 40 students were in the class. That’s a loss of 57 percent. Such a big rate of attrition is not exclusive to Tindley; a number of charter schools, especially of the “no excuses” variety, lose a lot of students and don’t replace them. Students who can’t cut it have to find another school to take them, sometimes in the middle of a school year.

Charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run, are being held out by President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos as one of the school choice alternatives to traditional public schools. DeVos has, in fact, called traditional public education a “dead end,” and is advocating for the expansion of charters school, vouchers and similar programs across the country.

But even though many charter schools are excellent, they don’t have to operate in the same way traditional public schools, which educate the vast majority of America’s school-age children, do. Public schools can’t push out students who aren’t on a college-bound academic track, or who present discipline problems, or have special education needs, the way many charters do.

As for the credo “College or Die”, the school’s website explains:

College or Die

The mission of Tindley is aimed at developing “scholars,” not simply “students.” That’s why the phrase College or Die is emblazoned in giant letters in the hallway of the Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School. While this statement was never meant to be interpreted literally, for most of our students, many of whom will be first-generation collegians, it conveys a strong message.

A strong message indeed, especially at a time when there is growing realization that school reformers have for too long given short shrift to vocational education for young people who aren’t interested in going college or aren’t able to.

Incidentally, the former principal of Tindley, Daphnè Robinson, was just put in charge of all charter schools in Shelby County, Tenn., where Memphis is located.

Also incidentally, Tindley is named after Charles Albert Tindley, founder of the Tindley Temple United Methodist Church in Philadelphia and a gospel music composer.