APS school chief: “Atlanta Public Schools is effectively broken.” We have to fix it together.

When the Opportunity School District comes knocking, Atlanta Public Schools hopes to be able to say, “Thanks, but we’re good.”

Atlanta faces the greatest risk of losing schools to the governor’s proposed state takeover district, which voters have to approve next year as it requires a constitutional change. The genial wording of the amendment just about assures passage.

Schools become candidates for absorption in Gov. Nathan Deal’s Opportunity School District if they post three years of under-performance on the state’s intricate performance index. Based on Deal’s models, the New Orleans Recovery School District and the Tennessee Achievement School District, metro Atlanta schools are likely takeover targets because they enable coordination of resources, oversight and staffing.

Performance and geography put Atlanta firmly in the sights of the OSD. At a public meeting Tuesday, newly hired APS Chief Schools Officer Donyall Dickey warned parents, “Forty-four out of our 73 schools or 60 percent of our schools are either in one of two categories: OSD eligible if the button were to be pushed today or at high risk for OSD eligibility.”

At a public meeting Tuesday, Meria Carstarphen told parents, "Culture is the biggest challenge for Atlanta Public Schools.+

At a public meeting Tuesday, Meria Carstarphen told parents, “Culture is the biggest challenge for Atlanta Public Schools.”

Atlanta hopes to fend off state takeover by jump-starting the improvement of those schools, but Superintendent Meria Carstarphen didn’t pretend a turnaround of that magnitude would be easy or that she’s made great strides after only one year leading APS.

“I only got one year to fix what is arguably a 30-year problem,” she told parents. Her inaugural year was spent stamping out fires, she said, including a chaotic payroll system. She also focused on identifying and helping students damaged by the infamous APS test cheating scandal.

“At the end of the day, I can tell you this — we went through and found every single child, all 4,000 of them still in APS who need remediation and support from this school system. No one knew them by name. No one could tell me where they were. No one could tell me what happened to them. What resources did they get? Did it even make a difference?”

Aided by grants for a half-million dollar review of the district by the Boston Consulting Group that included surveys, focus groups and interviews, Carstarsphen said she is now honing in on strategies. She did not minimize the hurdles.

“I don’t know why as a community we don’t understand that Atlanta Public Schools is effectively broken. We have the lion’s share of every problem you can possibly imagine in urban public schools. But I am here. This is my community,” she said. “They are my babies and my children and I expect of myself to do a good job with or without the support of anyone else. I believe in Atlanta. I believe in Atlanta Public Schools. I have met this staff. I know our children are beautiful and can deliver if we hold them to the right expectations.”

Among the problems identified by the consultants: uneven instructional quality across APS, a weak leadership pipeline and the unmet social needs of at-risk students. “We don’t have the strategy completely finished yet, but what we are hearing from people and what we learned from the research is pretty clear: that APS lacks, and I mean lacks consistent high-quality instruction …there’s a need to close these serious achievement gaps and provide additional instructional support,” she said.

Carstarphen said APS needs principals with track records of improving or turning around low performing schools. While the district has attracted some great principals, she worries about burning them out. “Once we get them here, we’ve got to care and feed them so they can stay strong and not get burned out in these tough situations.”

While there are benefits to making the school day or school year longer, Carstarphen cautioned, “Unless you are improving the quality of what is happening, just keeping them in school longer and giving them bad instruction are not necessarily going to move things faster.”

And even quality instruction falters if students do not come to school with the ability to be engaged. After ticking off all the challenges facing kids, from poverty to mental health to poor nutrition, Carstarshen said, “What our families need Atlanta Public Schools to do is to be a significant high-quality service provider, and we can hardly teach them to read, much less do all these other things.”

That’s why it will be essential for city services and the community to step up, she said.

“I didn’t break it,” she told parents. “Some of you all didn’t break it, and probably most of you all didn’t break it, but it is our problem to fix.”

Despite all the challenges the children bring to the classroom, Carstarphen cited an even bigger challenge for APS. “Culture is the biggest challenge for Atlanta Public Schools. Every great strategy we have gets eaten for  breakfast because of the culture sometimes.”

 

Reader Comments 0

138 comments
DrJohnTrotter
DrJohnTrotter

The MACE Mantra: You cannot have good learning conditions until you first have good teaching conditions. It is that simple. Order is the first law of the Universe. There is no otder in the Atlanta Public Schools mainly because student discipline has not been addressed in years. I receivec a call on Friday that a teacher had been knocked unconcious by one of the students at an Atlanta high school. The student discipline is out of conttol.

Enoch19
Enoch19

Being "evolved" spiritually or psychologically is an anti-science perspective.  Neither notion makes any sense at all.

LandoCalrissian
LandoCalrissian

Pish posh....the schools are working perfectly. As the fist step in the school to prison/low wage pipeline they do exactly what they were designed to do in low income areas; marginally educate the kids so as to prevent competition with children from higher income areas, and provide a half educated workforce equipped with a worldview that is no threat to the status quo. If you think that is going to change you're pretty naive....they'll call it something else, make a big initiative, lay out the comprehensive "5 point plan" to address the blah blah blah and at the end of day it will be the same argument and cycle. The people who eventually gentrify the city will put their kids in private schools anyway because who wants their kids to have a public western education if you can help it?

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@LandoCalrissian 

What is even more disturbing is that some of the people who are designing the "cure all" fix, via charter schools, are probably planning to make money off of the less fortunate who must live in the conditions which you have described, above.

CSpinks
CSpinks

"We have to fix it together."


Fixing what ails many Georgia public school systems is impossible without the full cooperation of many folks outside our schoolhouses and BOE offices with the teachers and administrators who work in them.


And, by the way, the education of our kids is too important to be left solely to educators. I'm one. I know.

NealBoortz
NealBoortz

Im going to start a New Business....im just going to become a "Consultant" for Public school systems....i cold make Another fortune just here in Atlanta.  God forbid they'd think of putting anyone of retainer........Before you can "right the Ship" ie The S.S. APS, you have to get it off the bottom first !

frogg
frogg

The elephant in the room is that APS is largely, but not completely broken. There are schools doing well. There's a HUGE economic achievement gap in the district. HUGE. 

53andholding
53andholding

The fingers are pointed at poor teachers - and there seem to be plenty of them - but in the end, parents are the most important part of education.  Fed children are able to focus on school, not hunger.  Children who are encouraged to read for pleasure do better at language arts, writing, reading and listening.  Math can be difficult for many children so teaching them to count, add, subtract or balance a checkbook are all helpful.  Having volunteered at one of the schools in the testing issue, the biggest issue is parenting.  Some kids attend any one school for only a couple of weeks before their parents - for whatever reason - move and they start anew.  Other parents don't care if the kids get to school or not and the absenteeism rate is very high.  And, sadly, some parents don't value education and don't pass the value of education on to their kids.  In short, they don't care.  Parents who are reading to kids a night, finding out their homework assignments and getting help if they can't help with homework are the parents whose children have a better chance at thriving educationally. There are so many breakfast, lunch, after school and tutoring programs out there for kids at risk that a call to the school district should almost instantly get you a list of the programs available.  Believe me, we all want our kids = all of our kids = to be successful.  But it starts at home.  

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@53andholding 

What is it in human nature which makes us feel we need to blame?  Why not simply see and help, including helping and educating parents, teachers, students, administrators.

redweather
redweather

@MaryElizabethSings @53andholding Just as one must remove the rotten apple from the bushel in order to preserve the rest, it is sometimes necessary to identify the bad actors and assign blame.

NealBoortz
NealBoortz

@Starik @MaryElizabethSings @redweather /  Wrong....that makes to much COMMON Sense !!  And Teachers need to pass "health and stress test also"....some of these "day care teachers" are unable to walk across the room without getting exhausted and taking a break from babysitting.  I propose they have BMI testing with strict health, work, and employ-ability guidelines... 

I Want teachers that are Proud of their Profession, not "Job Corp" employees.  Im around EDU Major College students weekly for K-12 that would "Eat these entitlement miscreants day care teachers for Lunch" with there current Teaching methods !!  But, that would require change.....God forbid.  

Starik
Starik

@MaryElizabethSings @redweather Most people, even the population who are gang members with face and neck tattoos have some good in them, though there are exceptions.  We need to encourage the good, which requires education - especially of young children.  We don't have the ability to provide good neighbors for everybody, or a good parent, but we can provide a good school.  Schools need to be as good as we can make them. We need to provide  well educated, intelligent teachers for them.  We need a way to reward the best teachers and get rid of the worst and keep it up until we have good schools.  Starting with the worst schools makes sense to me.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@redweather 

And, once again, no condescension was intended on my part, at all.  I am truly sorry that you have misinterpreted my thoughts and my motivations.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@redweather  and Starik:

From my blog:

"Observing the natural world, we see a pattern of birth and death, spring and winter, growth and deterioration. With rebirth, a new spring and renewed growth, we observe life’s ongoing cycle forever continuing. Likewise, within every person, we observe that there exists both darkness and light, good and evil. When we become more evolved spiritually and psychologically, we begin to question what part of ourselves is “good” and what part is “evil” more than we question who among us is good and who is evil. We recognize that every human being has the capability for both good and evil within his or her soul. Even the concepts of what is good, and what is evil, become more intertwined in our vision when we become more conscious human beings. . . ."  (I hope you will both read the remainder of my entry posted in 2011, including the comments of readers, afterwards.)

https://maryelizabethsings.wordpress.com/2011/10/31/the-intertwining-of-good-and-evil-within-each-soul/

Starik
Starik

@MaryElizabethSings @53andholding People can't be helped if they resist the help, and some who want help are beyond it.  All we can do is improve what we can... and we can provide good schools if the focus is on the needs of the kids and not on the needs of the employees of the school system.

4PublicEducation
4PublicEducation

@Starik @MaryElizabethSings @redweather "Well educated, intelligent teachers" and administrators are hard to come by in low income, high crime areas.  Most people would rather work in a safe, pleasant environment so they are going to gravitate to the better schools.  If you want to pull these people from the better schools, you would have to provide an incentive beyond altruism.  Some do it out of altruism, but they burn out fast. I would have been more likely to do it if I had been part of a larger team with a proven administrator from a good school who decided to go together to make a difference.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@redweather 

My article was written in 2011. I did not even know you existed at that time.  I posted my words here to reach the readers of this blog who might be open to the ideas of one who often sees with a different lens (or ken).

I have no idea about your state of consciousness, redweather.  You have made my remarks personal, not I.

redweather
redweather

@MaryElizabethSings @redweather "When we become more evolved spiritually and psychologically, we begin to question what part of ourselves is “good” and what part is “evil” more than we question who among us is good and who is evil."



"Even the concepts of what is good, and what is evil, become more intertwined in our vision when we become more conscious human beings. . . ."


In other words, I am neither as "evolved or as "conscious" as you are. That's rather condescending.

popcornular
popcornular

Funny how this group seems so consistently incapable of governance. The  highly acclaimed drama, 'The Elephant in the Room', continues its country-breaking run. 

Infraredguy
Infraredguy

This lady Carstarphen is treading on thin ice saying the APS is broken, Mayor Reed  does not like comments like this going public without his blessing, if she keeps this up, he will Tweet her right out of town

BigHat
BigHat

Reminds me of the old movie review: "Rated "X" by an all-white jury"

woodrow404
woodrow404

It would be easy to say: let the test scores determine who is effective and who not. But, we've already been down that road, haven't we? Test scores paired with big rewards and big punishments lead to corrupt practices, because the stakes are inhumanly high. Nurture, nurture, nurture. Nurture the students, and nurture the teachers. Nurture the system by making attendance and good behavior in the classroom a paramount concern. And I think where poverty is a primary concern, some experimentation with methods of instruction is called for.  

Starik
Starik

@woodrow404 We "nurtured" our slaves.  They were valuable property.  We then segregated the freed slaves, because "we love our colored people, they're like children."  End segregation.  We need to afford these kids the opportunity to assimilate, blend in, like all the other immigrant groups who overcame adversity and succeeded, over time, and became just "Americans." 

Starik
Starik

If you have an organization that's as bad as APS only drastic action will improve it.  People have to lose their jobs; some of them people with decades of service, single mothers, people who really need the job and who can't make anywhere near the money that they're making in teaching or administrative jobs with Atlanta Public Schools. Apparently that happened in New Orleans, and apparently that worked, at least partially.  The screams of pain from those who lose their jobs will be loud and frequently sincere - incompetent people in any job often think they're doing great and in an bad institution they won't have been told otherwise.  The impact will disproportionately affect black employees - and that means complaints of racial discrimination, again sincere ones.


"If b-u-r-d doesn't spell bird, what does it spell?"

Starik
Starik

@EdJohnson @Starik You may be correct about New Orleans. The benefits of State take-over there are probably exaggerated by proponents of takeovers. It is, however, the sort of drastic action needed to improve the situation.  These kids are the descendants of people who were captured, chained up, shipped across the Atlantic as cargo, enslaved, then freed but abused and neglected for a century.  Monetary reparations ain't happening.  What we can do is provide the children with a decent education.  We do owe them that.

gactzn2
gactzn2

@Starik @EdJohnson Be careful you are not vilifying the very people there for the sake of the children- we should not be so cavalier as to dismiss their professionalism because they teach in a district buried under bureaucratic mess. I am concerned, however, that this is a trend.

gactzn2
gactzn2

@Starik @EdJohnson @Starik @EdJohnson How would you determine they are "inferior"- again- you should check your wording because your bigotry is sadly showing. These teachers are teaching those many flee from in teaching circles.  The problems these students bring from their  communities and households are issues that these schools must grapple with each day these students show up.  The child does not show up alone- there is plenty of baggage that comes with them that must be overcome as well before the standards can even be discussed, and furthermore addressed.  I would say that makes many of these teachers courageous heroes who did not run when policies began to blow with the wind.  Teach there first- then judge it for yourself.  There are many who would not last one week teaching in Atlanta because of the culture, student issues, and contemptuous administrators- oh I forgot- contemptuous administrators are everywhere- not just APS


Oh and don't kid yourself- the new settlers of New Orleans look nothing like the community members who LEFT as well as the teachers who had to leave after Katrina. After being DISPLACED-  they were REPLACED.

Starik
Starik

@EdJohnson @Starik If you hire inferior teachers who are part of the culture they need to escape there's no hope for them. It would be a start to fire everybody involved in the failing schools and rehire the ones who deserve a job. I think that happened in New Orleans.

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

@Starik


“Apparently that happened in New Orleans, and apparently that worked, at least partially.”

Really?  Instead…

“The history of the state-run RSD in New Orleans is one of opportunism and deceit, of information twisting and concealing, in order to promote a slick, corporate-benefitting, financially-motivated agenda.  It is certainly not ‘for the children.’

“It is very easy for corporate reform to stand in front of the media and proclaim a New Orleans miracle. Bobby Jindal is doing it.  So are John White, Wendy Kopp, Leslie Jacobs, and a host of others.  No matter how oft-repeated the term ‘New Orleans miracle’ has become, it is a lie.

“To other districts around the nation who are considering adopting ‘the New Orleans miracle’:

Reread this post, and truly consider what it is that you would be getting:  A lie packaged to only look appealing from afar.”

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

@Starik

“These kids” are human children, like all other human children.  They have inborn intrinsic motivation to learn, just like all other human children have.  They respond and rationalize and make sense of their world, just like all other human children do.  They deserve education as human children, just like all other human children do.  Problem is, APS leadership just keep on using a business model of education to "educate" the children as “descendants of people who were captured, chained up, shipped across the Atlantic as cargo, enslaved, then freed but abused and neglected for a century” and, in the process, artificially limiting the education “these kids” deserve and also racializing the children’s paradigms and worldviews that burdens them with additional artificial limitations on their education.  And guess who today in Atlanta are mostly responsible for artificially limiting the education of “these kids?”  Hint: It ain’t the KKK.

“Drastic action” will most certainly CHANGE APS but hardly IMPROVE it.

Tcope
Tcope

Why did she mention fixing the payroll system as her first year big accomplishment? This has nothing to do with the children's education. You have to question her ability to focus externally on the students as opposed to internally on the employees....

Don't Tread
Don't Tread

@Tcope I don't suspect any teacher worth their salt will stay long if their paycheck keeps getting messed up.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Tcope You'd rather people be paid incorrectly and wasting taxpayer money?

Mandingo
Mandingo

As long as you keep running the schools like a food stamp program in that passing grades are given instead of earned , the APS system will always be broken. The Opportunity School District may not be the best answer but it seems to have motivated the lazy leadership to try and do a better job all of a sudden. Teach these children how to retain knowledge and learn and stop just collecting paychecks and complaining about how bad you think you have it.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Mandingo 

Your remarks remind me of the sweeping generalities against all blacks by most white Southerners in the 1950s, i.e. "lazy,"  "just collecting paychecks,"  "complaining about how bad you think you have it."

It is better to focus inside for improvement rather than outside, in judgement of others.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@redweather 

I don't disagree with you on that, necessarily.

I simply chose to point out some biased remarks made against blacks, of which the writer of those remarks may not have been aware. It has been my experience that one does not have to "judge harshly" poor situations when one is working to improve those situations.  Better to help than to judge.  Helping comes in many forms.

redweather
redweather

@MaryElizabethSings @Mandingo It is pretty obvious that school systems like APS and DCSS have major leadership problems that must be addressed if anything is going to improve.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@MaryElizabethSings @Mandingo 

Nothing in Mandingo's post about blacks, or even race.  (I have always assumed that "Mandingo" is a black male, from his moniker taken from the old movie of that title.)

redweather
redweather

@MaryElizabethSings @redweather "Love never fails"? Tell that to the families of the 10 students in Oregon who were just gunned by some nut who, or so it has been reported, was asking people their religion before blowing them away. Not sure what I'm more intolerant of, our insane infatuation with firearms or our equally insane infatuation with Bible quotes. 


Some things really are as plain as the nose on your face.  

gactzn2
gactzn2

@redweather @MaryElizabethSings @Mandingo I agree- this requires a collective, committed response.  Too many administrators want to play games with adults when all eyes should be on improving the student's academic odds.  No progress can be made when your attention is divided between mundane issues and the improvement of these students. 

PJ25
PJ25

Broken?  The hell you say!  They just need more money!  wink, wink

redweather
redweather

Who involved with APS is willing to do the heavy lifting? That's what the superintendent needs to find out.The cheating scandal of a few years ago was driven by exactly the opposite kind of people, the people who believe in smoke and mirrors.

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

"I don’t know why as a community we don’t understand that Atlanta Public Schools is effectively broken. " 


What planet is this lady on? Other than that, she deserves community support. But isn't that the root of the problems? Schools should be locally controlled, people's kids getting the education their parents believe they deserve and earn for them. No question disadvantaged parents and kids need supplemental support in financing, educational resources, and ACCOUNTABLE LEADERSHIP (direct, advisory, whatever). That would be the point of State takeover of failed/failing schools, and the takeover should be measured, controlled, and temporary.


Directly, most of us did not create this problem. Indirectly, we are all responsible. Money in and of itself will feed and deepen the corruption and block or delay the needed progress, as APS has very publicly demonstrated over the past few years.

GT_Grad!
GT_Grad!

@DawgDadII  What evidence exists that the "State" can do a better job? If the State has all the answers, then why haven't they shared them with the rest of us? Why have trust in the DOE for a state that is at the bottom of the nation for educational outcomes?  That makes zero sense. I suspect that a "for profit" educational corporation will be hired by the State to run these takeover schools, and I guarantee Gov. Deal got some nice campaign contributions for his reelection in 2014.  Take a look at the few State-run schools - I've been there and they are a MESS.