Poor schools, rich schools: Never the twain shall meet in Atlanta?

Inman Middle School is one of the most desirable schools in APS, and parents have and would resist any rezoning efforts. (APS Photo)

APS remains a tale of haves and have-nots, demonstrated by high-performing and booming schools in Buckhead, Midtown, Virginia-Highland and Morningside and under-capacity schools, even in gentrifying east Atlanta where Superintendent Meria Carstarphen wants to close Benteen and Whitefoord elementary schools.

Benteen’s 310 students would go to D.H. Stanton, while Whitefoord’s 272 students would divide between Burgess-Peterson and Toomer elementaries.

At a meeting Monday night about the proposal, puzzled community members cited the surge in young families with toddlers in strollers. Why would APS shut down schools with an obvious baby boom underway?

Because those young middle-class families aren’t choosing the neighborhood schools, opting for charters or private schools, said Carstarphen. Today, about 10,000 out of Atlanta’s 52,000 students attend charters, she said. Two of the top charter schools in the metro area, Drew and Atlanta Neighborhood Charter, are in this community.

Some parents suggested APS redraw the entire district to rezone students from overtaxed classrooms in affluent neighborhoods to empty seats in southeast Atlanta, creating more socio-economically diverse schools in the process. Parents in those higher-income communities, many of whom bought their homes because of Inman Middle, North Atlanta High or Morningside Elementary, would resist any such effort, as they’ve done in the past.

Education researcher and forensic accountant Jarod Apperson, who writes the data-rich Grading Atlanta blog, agrees more balance is ideal, “but it is best achieved with marginal adjustments that move kids into desirable schools, rather than moving families to less desirable schools.”

His suggestion: Open a test-based citywide gifted and talented K-12 school similar to New York’s Stuyvesant High School and Anderson School.

“This would free up some seats in the North Atlanta and Grady clusters. I think you get a lot further this way than rezoning people from a desirable school to an undesirable one, in hopes that their presence will cause quality improvement. High-income people have options, and they exercise those options,” said Apperson. “Even if you could get them to stay, I think the capacity of a few high-income parents to turnaround a struggling school is probably overstated. Principals and teachers are much more important.”

Carstarphen says the merged elementary schools will end up with talented leaders and teachers armed with better and more resources. Still, with all the new families, why didn’t schools in east Atlanta see a surge of interest and a rise in performance?

That’s a complicated question that touches on the role of charters in drawing away more capable students and committed parents and leaving behind the hardest-to-educate children and least-able-to-advocate families.

East Atlanta is home to Drew, which earns not only APS funding but corporate donations and sponsorships. As with the popular Atlanta Neighborhood Charter, Drew stands as both a star and a drain in APS, attracting motivated families willing to navigate a lottery process.

As one parent told me in an email, “I wish it was possible to be critical of the frustrations and tensions Drew creates in these communities without it seeming critical of what they’ve done. They’ve no doubt done tremendous good for a lot of kids. But there is a growing sentiment in these areas that the mission that they were chartered for has largely been achieved. Admitting more kids from East Lake and Kirkwood, largely from comfortable two-degree households, with a Subaru in the driveway, and a Labrador curled up in the open-concept family room, is no longer helping to break the cycle of poverty and education that they set out to confront.”

Today, only half the students in Charles R. Drew Charter School Elementary Academy quality for free and reduced lunch, according to the 2016 state Report Card. (In 2011, 74 percent of students were economically disadvantaged.)

“As far as Drew goes, yes the school has seen its population change dramatically in recent years.  My understanding is that the Drew board requested the ability to use weighted lotteries — a recently approved law now allows charters to give a greater chance of admission to students who are low-income or otherwise disadvantaged — as a part of its recent charter renewal,” said Apperson

The obvious response is to improve traditional public schools, so they, too, will enjoy the appeal of a Drew. But Carstarphen told me Burgess-Peterson Academy has done that, boasting similar achievement levels to Drew. Yet, Burgess-Peterson has not seen the uptick in enrollment she expected.

Apperson believes time will show an upswing at Burgess-Peterson, explaining, “These things are not immediate, but I believe parent perception of the school is decent, which over time should lead to greater buy in.  It does seem there is room for buy-in and satisfaction in this corner of APS to continue improvement.  If you look at Toomer particularly, some of the families that gave it a chance in 1st and 2nd grade are not around now that their kids are in 5th grade.  It’s tough to know the range of factors that drive these choices.  I’m sure some parents left because they weren’t fully satisfied and/or thought another option would be better for their kid.  Others may have been motivated by a sense that middle school was approaching and they weren’t confident in King {middle school}.”

The superintendent acknowledged the historic roles of race and politics in consolidating some schools in poverty while insulating others. But Carstarphen said rectifying those past wrongs can’t overshadow the urgent need to improve schools for the children in them now.

“I support these consolidations for a couple of reasons I highlighted last year when discussing the district turnaround strategy,” said Apperson. “First, APS doesn’t have enough leadership capacity to run so many small schools.  I think with fewer schools under management, it helps APS ensure higher-quality leadership.  Second, it is a tough thing for a superintendent to recommend a school consolidation.  It inevitably causes temporary friction.  So, it takes some courage to make a recommendation like this, and I try to support courageous leadership when it seems sensible.  I tend to frown on environments where leadership decisions are primarily motivated by an interest to not ruffle feathers.”

 

Reader Comments 0

38 comments
Tim Langan
Tim Langan

It seems Atlanta. Neighborhood Charter is having as much affect as Drew, but isn't mentioned. And Burgess Peterson and Toomer now have as good of Principals as anywhere in APS.

Mack68
Mack68

Twenty years ago Mary Lin Elementary (one of the now so-called "rich" schools cited in this article) was a poor school. This, even in the midst of gentrification by families, many of whom sent their kids to private schools.

It took a concerted effort by middle class families to lock arms and pledge to send their kids to that school, volunteer and work hard to make it what it is today.

I remember the "Mary Lin Ambassadors" (neighbors) who came to my door shortly after my oldest child was born to talk about the school and encourage us to consider it. 

It was a deliberate effort inspired by parents who had done the same thing at Morningside Elementary years before (that yes, once was a "poor" school, and not so long ago).

It worked. By the time my oldest was in 3rd grade, there were 2 whole grades at Mary Lin in overflow trailers.

East Atlanta could do the same thing with their neighborhood schools, except that they now have three escape valve charter schools that suck up many of the middle class students. As I noted in a comment on an earlier topic, the schools in this area are now quite segregated. 100% of the students in the non-charter elementary schools are classified as ED/EL/SWD (that is, they are either economically disadvantaged, English learners, students with disabilities, or some combination thereof); whereas the three charter schools have 25%, 53% and 56% of such students.

ChrisRMurphy
ChrisRMurphy

@Mack68 Neither your timeline for Lin nor your statistics are correct.  Lin was the focus of community volunteers 30 years ago.

Without going to the GA DOE stats, Toomer, Burgess nor Parkside have "100%" ED/EL/SWD.

Mack68
Mack68

@ChrisRMurphy @Mack68 The CCRPI reports from 2016 are where I got those stats. Tell me if you interpret those same reports differently.

As for the Lin timeline - it was still a Title I school as late as 2000 (didn't keep track of that), and recruiting of  neighborhood parents -trying to sway them away from private school- was definitely going on the in mid to late 90s. That was 20 years ago. 

Kamau Mason
Kamau Mason

Wealthy whites (and wealthy blacks) don't want their children in school with poor blacks. And the school board supports philosophy. Atlanta is not a large city. It's best schools are minutes away from its poorest neighborhoods. What seperates the students are zoning lines. And for the record, allowing a heterogenous mixture of socioeconomic classesand ethnicities helps all student grow.

Serene Alami Varghese
Serene Alami Varghese

Thank you for covering this-- fyi Burgess Peterson gained 3 teachers from last school year to this year, which Carstarphen and APS seem to have glossed over in their (flawed) SE Atlanta school growth and enrollment data. The school community IS growing. Burgess may havr low income students, but comparatively speaking, the poverty is not nearly as stark as at some APS schools. The parents work and drive cars. Many are homeowners. These families are incredibly hard working and support the heck out of the school and their kids. The academic gains seen at BPA make sense in this context-- a nurturing school environment with a diverse group of kids that are ready to learn. It's a special place.

CSpinks
CSpinks

Georgia needs more nurturing school environments- and more nurturing parents, for that matter- if our kids are to develop the academic and social skills their future prosperity and peace will require.


And, of course, more "gritty" school board trustees, school administrators and teachers wouldn't hurt, either.

Cheryl Pharr
Cheryl Pharr

Angie, parents with money is the single most important factor in school performance.

CSpinks
CSpinks

"Grit" is the most powerful predictor of school achievement.

Cheryl Pharr
Cheryl Pharr

the time in history when school scores were the highest was when segregation was the lowest. isn't less segregation better for everyone?

Angie Baucom Powell
Angie Baucom Powell

Are these schools in district 5? Consider other factors too... Different parenting styles and the emphasis placed on the importance of education. Parental support is one of the single most important factors for school performance! If you fill the high performing schools with students whose parents do not care and are not involved in their education... You will see these schools performance levels decrease. It's not a matter of teachers in the school, or classroom numbers.

Ashley Sparks
Ashley Sparks

Atlanta is a tale of two cities. That won't be the answer. Parental involvement plays a role also. We can't fix underperforming school alone.

Pelosied
Pelosied

His zero teaching experience, something this newspaper column regularly insists on with conservative education critics, renders Apperson’s unqualified to hold any views.

So why listen to him?

And unlike soon-to-be Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Apperson has donated no money that I'm aware of toward helping kids ill-served by the public school system.

peachtree123
peachtree123

@Pelosied  Apperson does have teaching experience, in addition to other relevant qualifications. In fact, he was recently selected for the 2017 Theodore C. Boyden Excellence in Teaching Economics Award from GSU.

CSpinks
CSpinks

@Pelosied With his extensive statistical background in Finance and Economics and his position outside GaPubEd, Apperson is the kind of evaluator of which our public school systems more.

Chuck-U Schumer
Chuck-U Schumer

@peachtree123 

There's no mention of any teaching experience on his lengthy LinkedIn page. And in this case he's being put forward as an expert in K-12 issues.

CSpinks
CSpinks

@Pelosied A "better late than never"  CORRECTION: "...Apperson is the kind of evaluator of which our public school systems need more."

Naomi Pate
Naomi Pate

You also have to consider other factors as well: so called" low performing schools" have more going on than low test scores. What parent wants to send their child to a school that has chronic discipline issues? Or lack of staff to service students that have IEPs? Parents who truly want their children to have a meaningful education keep their eyes on this and act accordingly just like Ms. Jones said above this post.

Naomi Pate
Naomi Pate

Megan Kiser that as well. However wrong it may be, some people do turn their noses up at schools with high student poverty rates.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

This excerpt from the book that I am presently reading will explain why there continues to be this wide range of socio-economic status, from rich to poor in America.  The name of the book is "White Trash" by Nancy Isenberg.


The below will explain why we are suffering from the policies of the top 1% in America, of which Trump is only the culmination of 45 years of greed from the top, manipulated into power by fooling the masses.

---------------------------------


From the book, 'White Trash,' pp. 214 and 216:



"At its most visionary, (social scientist Milburn Lincoln) Wilson saw rehabilitation as the process of taking stranded coal miners in abandoned towns, displaced factory workers without jobs, and tenants trapped on unproductive land and helping them all adopt a new way of life.  The modern homestead of his design was a source of genuine democracy, producing 'a sturdy rather than servile citizenry.'  If ever there was a proactive policy for creating the yeoman republic of Thomas Jefferson's imagination, this was it. . . .


Both Wilson and (Secretary of Agriculture Henry) Wallace dismissed the notion that class (or even race) was biologically preordained.  Wallace stressed the importance of understanding class insecurity.  Over time, he warned, economic benefits accrued to the stronger, shrewder people in society, and if unrestrained by government, conditions would lead to 'economic autocracy' and 'political despotism.'  Sounding a lot like the critics in our present who deplore the concentration of wealthy among the top 1 percent of Americans, Wallace in 1936 argued that liberty was impossible if  '36 thousand families at the top of the economic pyramid get as much income as 12 million families at the bottom.' "  (Footnote 25: Wilson, "Problem of Poverty in Agriculture," 20, 23, 28; Wallace, "Chapter VII: The Blessing of General Liberty" in "Whose Constitution? An Inquiry into the General Welfare," 102 -103.)

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Pelosied @MaryElizabethSings


My mind does not work like yours, Pelosied. (Notice I use my own name, not the name which is a derivative of a political figure's name, as you do.)


I am interested in sharing truth in depth, and I know that this reading audience will benefit from knowing the sources of America's continuing poverty juxtaposed to America's growing wealth of the top 1% in this nation.  That is called educating.


My mind is not on who won the election.  My mind is on how to create a better, more egalitarian and democratic America (and world) in the future.  To do this, we must first know the source of our inequities in wealth.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Pelosied @MaryElizabethSings


Please do not use the sexist word, "sweetie," when you address me, Pelosied.  You have done this several times. I am asking Maureen Downey to have you stop the male chauvinistic language. That is as offensive as racist language. Shame on you.  

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Pelosied @MaryElizabethSings 

Females can also adopt offensive male chauvinistic language.  Please stop the insulting name-calling toward me. ("Southernism," or not, has nothing to do with its gratuitous, intended insult).

Chuck-U Schumer
Chuck-U Schumer

@MaryElizabethSings 

The last election was only weeks ago, and your side lost at every level of government.

So why not rethink your message of hatred, envy and division? 

 

AlreadySheared
AlreadySheared

Students get the schools that their parents, on average, deserve.  


Sounds awful, but here it is.  Schools where the majority of students come from households where the parents value learning and respect and support teachers are "higher performing".  Classroom management at those schools is less challenging.  Where there are behavior issues, parents are proactive and collaborate with teachers to manage them.  Parents volunteer in the schools.  They raise money to pay for materials that would otherwise not be bought.  Because of all of the above, there are more opportunities for actual learning and achievement to occur.  Teachers know where this is happening and compete for jobs in those schools.  Turnover is reduced and more experienced and skilled teachers work there.  It is a virtuous (as opposed to vicious) cycle.


This is hinted at in the passage about charter schools "drawing away more capable students and committed parents and leaving behind the hardest-to-educate children and least-able-to-advocate families."    


Least  able?  My foot.  The parents simply don't.


CSpinks
CSpinks

@AlreadySheared In at least one other Georgia urban school district, there are many families which are the "least-able-to advocate" for their kids because of parental academic skill deficits. But there are also in that district  too many families which choose not to advocate for fear of economic reprisals and social ostracism.


My congratulations are extended to those Richmond County families which have advocated for their children in the face of economic reprisals, social ostracism and even physical injury.

Starik
Starik

@MaureenDowney @AlreadySheared The educational system seems to want parents to do their share in educating their kids; unfortunately many, many parents lack education themselves and they simply can't do it. Education isn't a priority in communities that have a culture that isn't oriented to schoolbook learning, but toward "street smarts."

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@AlreadySheared Not sure how true that is. A friend taught at a low-income APS school that has since been closed. I went to two daytime events and there were lots of grandmothers and moms on hand. Families were poor, but they did what they could. I also have to say this about parent advocacy: My twins are applying to college so I am doing everything twice. I am amazed how confusing the college sites can be, especially in regard to financial aid.  We have been to GaTech twice this week to drop off information, and we had to go to the IRS in person to get a "non-filer" statement to show my son did not work the summer of 2015. (He was taking a world history course through Ga Virtual so he could take an extra science course during the school year.) I sent the request via FAX, never heard back from the IRS and then called because the Tech deadline is Tuesday. I waited, truly, two hours for an operator who promptly told me she could only talk to my son since he was newly 18. I put him on the phone and woman gives him another number to call. Before I could scream, "Don't hang up," he does so, and we end up having to go in person to the West Peachtree office to get the form and then to Tech to drop it off. (Earlier in the week, we had to drop off an IRS tax transcript.)

I already had two kids go through college and I write about this for a living and it is still a challenge. How do parents without the time or wherewithal do all this? 

JeffreyEav
JeffreyEav

Excellent column. As a parent of twin third graders in East Atlanta I agree with the idea of the high performing school. And even though I have a Subaru and an open floor plan I agree with the person's comment on Drew although it is more apropos for ANCS.

BTW. No labrador. Rottweiler.

Ty Jones
Ty Jones

People will move, use fake addresses or whatever to keep or send their children to the school they feel will better serve them and their needs educationally.

CSpinks
CSpinks

My wife and I did it for our grandchildren.

Jane A. Weir
Jane A. Weir

Very true, having been a registrar, I know you are correct.