Despite pockets of progress, persistently struggling schools and extreme achievement gaps across neighborhoods still define APS in 2019

November 7, 2019 — Following Superintendent Meria Carstarphen’s upbeat State of the District presentation earlier today, parent and education advocacy groups are highlighting a series of inequities that tell a more accurate story about Atlanta Public Schools. 

The reality of APS, say the Latino Association for Parents of Public Schools and GeorgiaCAN, which both work to drive improvements across city schools, is that of a school district that remains riven by race and class. Atlanta is home to schools in the bottom 10 and the top 10 statewide. School quality often depends on what cluster a student resides in. 

Despite well-intentioned efforts, too many struggling schools are as challenged today as they were five years ago. Consider Perkerson Elementary School, for instance, where fewer than 15 percent of students have scored on grade level in English language arts every year since 2015.

“The state of the district is poor,” said Olivia Henderson, whose child is zoned for Perkerson but attends a different school due to Perkerson’s performance. “We’re not plagued by cheating scandals like we were years ago, but the fact that more than 85 percent of students at my child’s school can’t read and write on grade level is a scandal in and of itself.”

In advance of a report these groups will release next month, here are five things to know about the real state of our district:

  1. Atlanta has been and still is a tale of two cities. 

The gap between White students and Latino students at grade level is nearly 50 points. The gap between White students and Black students is nearly 60 points. These gaps — some of the largest in the country — largely reflect the geography of the city, with some of the highest-performing schools in the northeast and some of the lowest-performing schools in the southwest parts of the city. But there are also gaps within schools. At Sutton Middle School, for example, there is a 55-point gap between White and Latino students. 

“The notion that the quality of your children’s school relies on the color of your skin or the neighborhood you can afford to live in is patently unfair,” said Ricardo Miguel Martinez, a LAPPS Board member. “All children deserve the opportunity to receive a quality education, regardless of their race or their zip code.”

  1. Some schools are consistently struggling. 

Change takes time, but five years is long enough to expect at least some progress, and there is no movement in far too many schools. In other schools, the pace of progress needs to dramatically accelerate.

For example, over the past five years, the highest proficiency rate in geometry at Frederick Douglass High School is 7 percent. Similarly, fewer than 10 percent of Boyd Elementary School students have shown proficiency in English Language Arts for five straight years.

“I see that the schools are getting a little better,” said Karen Bryant, who has one child in an APS middle school and one in an APS high school, “but we’re moving inches when we need to move miles. At this rate, my children will be out of the schools by the time APS dramatically narrows the performance gaps.”

  1. Charter school performance varies significantly. 

Atlanta’s charter school sector has real strengths. For instance, the 2018 math proficiency rate for Black students at charter schools was 37.5 percent, compared to 17.2 percent at district and partner schools. 

However, there are dramatic differences in outcomes amongst charter schools, too. 

For instance, 2018 math proficiency for Black students at charter schools ranged from 7 percent at Atlanta Neighborhood Charter Middle School to 61 percent at Drew Charter Elementary.

  1. Some of the highest-performing schools could serve many more students. 

Even though there are many spots available in some of the highest-performing schools, families are not empowered to enroll their children where they think they would be served best. 

For example, the three North Atlanta elementary schools with CCRPI scores above 90 (Brandon, Jackson, and Smith) have additional space for 1,251 students in total, yet the district has not offered administrative transfer into these schools. 

  1. Parents are part of the solution. 

Recognizing a baseline for how Atlanta schools are performing is a critical first step, and the second is pushing for progress. Parents want to be part of the solution, and toward that end LAPPS Padres-Latinos and GeorgiaCAN will publish a report in December taking a deeper look into the persistent inequities across APS and the changes parents are looking to see. 

“What I hear from the parents I work with everyday is that APS might be better off than it was a decade ago, but there is still a lot of work to do,” said Steven Quinn, State Outreach Director of GeorgiaCAN. “With a new strategic plan and a new superintendent on the horizon, now is the time to push for change.” 

**

The Latino Association For Parents of Public Schools provides a support network for parents to have a voice within schools. Local chapters exist in schools across the city, and each chapter helps to plan integral school activities and support students’ academic success. Collaboration with Atlanta Public Schools and individual schools has been central to LAPPS’ success.

GeorgiaCAN seeks to identify and advance common-sense policies that put the needs of students first. We engage local stakeholders—from community members to policy makers—to advocate for student success throughout the entire public education system. Learn more at www.gacan.org.

Michael is the Executive Director of GeorgiaCAN.

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