Why have Clayton schools seen more success than Atlanta? Is APS educating poorest of the poor?

I have been watching the progress of Clayton County Public Schools with great interest over the last few years. I was on the AJC editorial board when Clayton was at its worst, in large part because of a self-serving school board and a revolving door of school leaders. Some Clayton members told the AJC they needed “their jobs” with the school board to pay their bills.

In 2008, I wrote: “There’s little to cheer about right now in Clayton, where a meddling school board has put the entire school system’s accreditation and the future of its students at risk for the second time in five years…If there’s a glimmer of hope left in Clayton, it will take the Hubble Space Telescope to find it.”

That hope is much more visible today. My MyAJC.com reports today Clayton saw its three schools eligible for possible state takeover due to under performance improve their standing enough to escape the list.

Nearly half the takeover-eligible schools are in metro Atlanta. DeKalb County has the most schools eligible for takeover, 28; Atlanta has 22, including some schools that have closed or will be merged or closed next year. Ten schools are in Fulton County. Three others are state-approved charter schools, including two in metro Atlanta and one online school. Voters will decide in November whether to approve Gov. Nathan Deal’s Opportunity School District, which can seize control of failing schools.

AJC education reporter Marlon Walker reports on MyAJC.com Clayton has no schools on the list now, which district leaders credit to curriculum changes and a focus on individual student needs. It was the only district to see all its schools removed.

Walker reports:

The district started working on what it calls the CCPS Academic Achievement Plan several years ago…At Charles Drew High School in Riverdale, Principal Gary Townsend said the district’s plan was working wonders. Aside from that, teachers stay after school for tutoring and come on Saturdays to provide additional instruction for students as well.

“The biggest difference was the assistance coming from the district with content-specific coaches assisting teachers with the lesson models, and the monitoring we did as an administrative team here,” said Townsend, who has been the school’s principal since it opened in 2009. “You go in and you want to make sure good teaching is happening. We looked at the classrooms and the framework we were using and made sure … it was working.”

He said attention to student testing data was important in the turnaround. The data showed math was a problem for many of the students coming into the school. In addition to freshman algebra, the students also take an algebra support class, which has resulted in major improvement in the school’s math scores. If a student is struggling, that student may be moved to a different class to see if he or she has a better outcome.

I’ve been exchanging emails with education writer Myra Blackmon on the issue of Atlanta Public Schools vs. Clayton Schools. Both districts teach many poor students. Both overcame messy pasts. Why does Atlanta Public Schools seem to struggle more with school turnaround than Clayton?

A columnist for the Athens Banner-Herald, Blackmon holds a master’s of education degree from the University of Georgia. She was intrigued and looked closer at the two neighboring districts. She writes:

From an April 13 Get Schooled post: “Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen called elementary schools the weakest link in her system. It perplexed her, given Georgia’s pioneering efforts in establishing universal pre-k.”

I speculated that perhaps because elementary schools generally have the smallest attendance zones, they may intensify poverty levels in some schools. Indeed, some claim that school districts often intentionally draw zones to segregate affluent and poor children.  Given the proven link between poverty and low academic performance that just might be the case.

The observation, however, raises the question of why Clayton County Public Schools, right next door and with similar enrollment and poverty levels, has no elementary schools on the state takeover target list, although three of its high schools appear on the list.

When I dug into the statistics that might explain this discrepancy, I was surprised at what I found. In both districts, enrollment in Pre-K is about 23 percent of kindergarten enrollment. That belies the claim that we have achieved universal Pre-K.  Enrollment numbers in grades K-5 are almost identical in the two districts.

With some 53, 400 students, Clayton annually spends $7790 per student, with $4984 of that devoted to instruction. APS with three thousand fewer students spends $14,213 per student, with $8941 of that for instruction.

Using the free-and-reduced-lunch measure, Clayton is much poorer than APS, with 95 percent of students eligible in 2015 versus APS’ 76 percent in 2016. (It appears that in 2016 Clayton County is taking advantage of a program that provides 100 percent of students with free lunch.)

The discrepancy can’t be easily explained by pre-K, instructional or support expenditures, or poverty.  So I looked at the 2014 CCPRI numbers for each district. Again, the scores are very close. APS has an overall score of 62.6 (out of a possible 100 points) while Clayton shows an overall score of 63.4. Clayton’s elementary CCPRI is about 10 percent lower than APS, with a 31.32 compared to a 34.35.

Both districts have been through trauma and upheaval in the last few years. Clayton almost lost its accreditation and its school board was taken over by the state. APS had to deal with its test cheating scandal. Both seem to have stabilized and put their crises behind them.

There is no readily apparent explanation for the high number of APS schools on the state target list. This phenomenon should raise questions about the construction and validity of the CCPRI for all schools in the state.

A few days later, Blackmon followed up with an email on something we’ve debated here on the blog: Does the depth of poverty or how far back it stretches in a family tree affect student performance? Does multi-generational poverty cast a shadow that is hard for children to ever escape?

I’ve met successful immigrant students in high poverty schools who had one influential edge over their American-born peers: their parents were educated in their home countries, and they had a family history of literacy. Their parents made sure they went to school and studied at home.

Blackmon had lunch with a former superintendent and ran the Clayton vs. APS question by her. The educator told her, “that although free and reduced lunch rates and other indicators of poverty may be similar, the kind of poverty in APS is different: multi-generational, more children living in ‘no income households’ as opposed to Clayton where there may be more people working low-wage jobs, children in families that are poor but not the poorest of the poor.”

What do you think?

 

 

 

 

Reader Comments 0

29 comments
Starik
Starik

Possibly the Clayton bureaucracy is younger, smarter, and expected to perform well?  It's easy to fire somebody who just started their career than one who's close to retirement. 

Réjer A. Finklin
Réjer A. Finklin

The link to the blog post routing to a page not found page. Could someone check this? I really want to read your take on this. Thanks.

NikoleA
NikoleA

So....CCRPI is crap too. 

Sandra Bryant
Sandra Bryant

Really is Atlanta a third world country??? Horrible!!!

Prop_Joe
Prop_Joe

Atlanta needs to do a better job of drawing families into the City. Families= Better Communities= Better Schools.  The City's population is aging, and there is a large number of students with single-parent female head of households.


Until the family matter is addressed, you'll have failing kids in failing schools and/or failing kids affecting good kids in good schools.

Dsanner64
Dsanner64

Poor does not equal stupid, I think too often this is used as an excuse for poor scores and in the case of Atlanta, we have seen money after money thrown at the problem to take care of that. They spend almost double the amount per student in APS that Clayton does, yet Clayton is moving up and APS is not. Part of this is the schools now teaching to the test and spending months out of every school year concentrating on the national testing programs rather than teaching the basics to students. Part of the problem is lack of involvement at home from parents. It is not a simple question and there are no simple answers, but APS needs to forget the government program and concentrate on the kids. 

redweather
redweather

@Dsanner64 While it is true that "poor does not equal stupid," chronic poverty is a result of under-educated adults. The children of those adults are born into situations that almost guarantee they will not succeed in school. It's what some call a vicious cycle.

bu22
bu22

APS having average scores similar to Clayton is due to the higher income parts of APS.  That offsets the lower scores in the schools subject to takeover.

DMcC
DMcC

David.mccowen@comcast.net

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

Why have Clayton schools seen more success than Atlanta?

Because the leadership of Clayton schools is concerned with school improvement, but the leadership of Atlanta schools is concerned with executing school turnaround with fidelity.  It is as simple, yet as complex, as that.

One has only to look to see (e.g., here) that Atlanta superintendent and school board are doing no more and no less than mechanically carrying out Obama Administration’s simplistic and naïve school turnaround ideology, and doing it at an ever greater cost.

There’s the Turnaround Model, that requires replacing the principal; the Restart Model, that requires converting or closing then reopening a school with a privatizing charter school operator; the School Closure Model, that requires closing a school and sending its students to another so-called higher achieving school; and, the Transformation Model that requires, in addition to replacing the principle, changing the adults culture of the school by replaying instructional staff.

If one were to listen carefully and critically, one will hear the Atlanta superintendent talk only about, and do nothing more than, school turnaround.  After all, she has said the board hired her to do school turnaround, not necessarily school improvement.

Unfortunately, Atlanta superintendent’s school turnaround training by Harvard, coupled with her seemingly innate bullying and behavioristic paradigm, clearly resonates with Atlanta business community, which continually tampers with hence limits Atlanta Public Schools in developing genuine capability to improve, educationally, as via chairing the board’s superintendent search committee.  Atlanta business community generally does not tamper with Clayton schools, which also helps to answer “Why have Clayton schools seen more success than Atlanta?

Roberta Cromlish
Roberta Cromlish

"Poorest of the poor" = single, uneducated parent raising lots of kids

redweather
redweather

I wonder if the attendance numbers in Clayton and APS are more similar or more different.

Dsanner64
Dsanner64

@redweather Clayton has a very aggressive truancy program backed by the sheriffs office, I do not know if APS is as aggressive.


Wascatlady
Wascatlady

I think it may be a combination of family makeup, "type" of poverty, and length of poverty.  A child from a one-adult family, especially if that adult has little education and there are multiple children, has much less chance of "making it" than a child of working poor dual-parents with high school educations and few children.  Add in multigenerational poverty, and the child's chances go down further.  Or, have someone NOT the parent raising the child. Or there being drug or alcohol issues.  Or very mobile living situations (frequent moves). Or a rotating set of "parents" (daddy for the week.) It has nothing to do with race. If you don't believe that, come up to the north Georgia mountains.

atlmom
atlmom

@Wascatlady but how does that work?  I mean, my grandmother was one of the poorest of the poor, her parents never learned english (there was no ESL back then) -- she was hungry much of the time, went to work at 8.  Stopped going to school before high school.  Better educated than many I know.

What happened?  Parents were never involved in their kids educations' decades ago.  Now we are told it is necessary. I can assure you my grandmother did nothing for her two kids except tell them to go to school.  She was widowed young and working 6 days a week.  What has changed between then and now?

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@atlmom @Wascatlady 

But your grandmother "t[old] her kids to go to school," right? She was working 6 days a week without a husband there to work, but she insisted her kids get educated rather than work at a job to help out.

Astropig
Astropig

Using poverty as a catch-all explanation for every problem in the public schools is just a giant smokescreen/red herring/whopper.If poverty retarded education to the extreme that we're told,we'd still be stuck in the Great Depression.Back then,just about everybody was poor.But in the two decades after that financial implosion happened,we developed atomic energy,mainframe computers,helicopters and Silly Putty.(And took time out to win a world war) Good grief,I'm sure glad that Astrodad and AstroMom didn't use their working poor upbringing to justify neglecting my family and stopping any attempt at a better life.I guess they were lucky that they didn't have the "help" that the elites are providing in our own time.

bu22
bu22

@Astropig My Dad says about that time, "We were all poor.  We just didn't know it."

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Astropig Like you, my parents, who would be 97 and 94 now, came from modest beginnings. One set of my grandparents had 8th and 6th grade educations (and one of them was one of 13 children). On the other side, there was a little more education, but large families also.  On BOTH sides, there was an emphasis on education, and an expectation for doing well. So my parents both had bachelor's degrees--one in electrical engineering from Duke (in 3 years!), the other with a BS in psychology and sociology. (Side note: All 7 of her siblings had at least bachelor's degrees, and most had more).  None of my middle class friends had both parents with college degrees.  I had no idea that it was uncommon then.


They came along at a time that was favorable for young people to work hard and then move up.  I am not sure if now the poor see quite the same near-sure reward for living within means and personal responsibility, and a sense of embarrassment if societal norms are breached.  Nowadays we don't see those rewards necessarily accrue.  Jobs disappear.  Few employers seem to value their employees as they used to.


I DO know that I, and my children, benefitted enormously from their decisions and sacrifices.  Economically, yes, but also attitude-wise, with a sense of "yes, you can."  (And you'd BETTER!)

Legong
Legong

The key edge immigrant school children have over their peers, most notably in the inner-city, is that they grow up with a father in the home.

When will political correctness be set aside to address that fact?

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Legong Immigrant children, in my experience, also have imbued in them a sense of "we are counting on you."  In ways practical, frequently, immigrant children are under a mandate to provide assistance to their less-fluent parents. I have taught quite a few little girls who have been in the delivery room with their moms to translate.

Astropig
Astropig

@Wascatlady @Legong


It's been my observation that hispanic fathers are very,very success oriented and family minded.In Dalton (where Astropig jr. played a LOT of soccer competitively),it's not at all uncommon to see immigrant fathers out on a walk with the kids,at the park pushing a swing, and of course,at the soccer pitch,cheering like a madman when his kid(s) play well.They stay in the home and provide good role models (hard work,entrepreneurial spirit,high standards for their kids,etc) and generally show a love for the opportunity that America provides.


I think that last point bears magnification: If a group of immigrants see the opportunity here and grasp it,why can't some homegrown families strive to achieve at a higher level?

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Astropig @Wascatlady @Legong Your observations mirror mine.  I have also, over the last 25 years, been involved in many parent-teacher meetings with Latino parents.  I have almost NEVER been stood up.  Also, it is quite typical for the father to attend, usually with butsometimes without, the mother.


One other observation: When I have talked to Latino fathers about their children's behavior or other concerns, I see immediate improvement (with two exceptions) in all that time.  A phone call or in person, I have not heard excuses or attempts to blame the teacher for the child's behavior.


Unlike so many experiences with Anglo parents.

Tom Green
Tom Green

I believe there are bonus points on the CRRPI for poverty. I suspect the bonus points are assigned for free and reduced lunches. If you take out the poverty bonus points, how do the scores compare? OTOH, that's a huge discrepancy on per child expenditures. Where is the APS money going to?

Shira Newman
Shira Newman

yes, they have plenty of money. throwing more money at the problem isn't the answer.

NikoleA
NikoleA

@Maureen do you have insight into whether this is true or not? I doubt it.