ATLANTA

Citywide Education Progress Report

Key Takeaways: June 2018

Between 2017 and 2018 Atlanta Public Schools deepened its commitment to improving persistently low-performing schools, took steps to increase school-level autonomy, and put new strategies in place to support families through the school choice process. However, a number of barriers still stand in the way of all families to having access to high-quality school options. Increasing citywide engagement in education marks a positive direction for Atlanta, and sets the foundation for addressing persistent student achievement gaps. The district has formed new partnerships with funders and businesses, and a new nonprofit is helping to launch talent, school supply, and community support initiatives.

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System Reforms

Do students have access
to 
a high-quality education?

Array of school models Good
Strategic school supply Developing
Enrollment is working Developing
Families have information Developing
Transportation is working Little in Place

Is the education strategy
rooted in the community?

System is responsive Developing
Variety of groups Developing
City engages families Developing
Broad support Developing

Is the education system
continuously improving?

Right leaders Good
Right teachers Developing
Equitable funding Developing

Each indicator is scored with a rubric on a 4-point scale. We added the scores for the indicators to get an overall goal score. An arrow shows increase or decrease from the 2017 score.

Looking Deeper

Challenges Ahead

► Developing citywide responsibility for improving student opportunities

Atlanta Public Schools (APS) is working to address persistent achievement gaps and inter-generational poverty through early literacy, social-emotional, and post-secondary scholarship initiatives. These new programs were only possible through new partnerships with funders, nonprofits, and businesses. Given the interconnected issues at play, citywide efforts must continue to focus on improving student opportunities for success. The election of a new mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, provides an opportunity for education to be a bigger part of the civic agenda. For example, civic and education leaders could work together to develop progressive transportation policies that help families access new school options. Nonprofits could step in to help families who are outside of the Go Team school governance structure to engage with APS and charter sector initiatives. Along with sharing responsibility, more engaged local groups will help push for continued accountability on district improvement.


► Expanding high-quality options where they are most needed

APS has a multi-pronged school improvement strategy. Over the past year, 16 schools received targeted assistance from the district or were put under the management of charter operators like Kindezi Gideons and Purpose Built Schools. Fifteen of these schools have achieved subject-level gains. New data also show that charter schools outperform the local neighborhood option in many parts of the city. We have two recommendations as APS moves forward. First, APS should develop a common school performance framework with clear and transparent criteria for school turnaround or consolidation so all its schools are held to high standards. Second, the district should—through intentional charter authorization and district school redesign—encourage the replication of what works. APS can use an RFP process to ensure charter applicants and district redesigns meet research-based standards and are a good fit for family needs. Colocations, facility supports, and cross-sector advocacy for better charter school funding will build a more desirable environment for charters, increasing the range of operators who might apply. And APS can take the lead in helping school teams leverage new school autonomies to incubate innovative, proven models.


► Improving school information and making the application process easier

In the past year, APS has made great improvements in communicating with families about the administrative transfer process and school quality by arming them with information. Through CRPE’s parent surveys, we know that finding a school that is a good fit and finding enough information are common barriers for families. To ensure that the choice process is equitable and easy to use, we encourage APS, local funders, and engaged nonprofits to work on these two remaining barriers. First, Atlanta has no consolidated resource where families can find curricular, programmatic, and student service information for each school. Second, application processes are still disjointed: there is a new application for APS’ administrative transfer process, but it is still separate from the district online platform that helps families enroll in their neighborhood school. Consolidating these two applications is a logical next step. Also, each charter school has its own application and lottery process. Education leaders can consider developing a common application or enrollment system for charter schools.

Spotlight

Data Dashboard, Blog, and Training Help Communities Assess School Quality

By making data public and accessible, APS is demonstrating its commitment to transparency and public accountability. In September 2017 the district launched APS Insights, a user-friendly data dashboard with testing and school culture data for all APS and APS-authorized charter schools (state-authorized charter schools were not included).

Families can compare metrics by school and look at school quality by feeder pattern. Blogs, like this one about the relationship between performance and poverty, help families and community members digest the information. APS trained local school governance teams in how to use the data. Communication flowed two ways: the district also added college readiness metrics in response to community feedback. APS is currently making updates to the software so they can share the template with other districts.


Working with Principals as Funds Increase for Schools with Highest-Needs Students

Since instituting the Charter System of Schools in 2016, APS has been slowly rolling out school-level control over budgeting. Starting in the 2018-19 school year, schools with the highest-needs students will receive more money to support them: 33% of funds will go directly to traditional district schools using a student-based allocation formula.

An open process helped develop buy-in from principals. APS held meetings over six months with school and district staff to define the role of the principal and identify appropriate funding weights. Once the formula was set, the district provided training to principals and school-based Go Teams. Moving forward, APS recognizes that it will need to collect data to understand how principals are using their funds. The district must also continue to support school staff, especially program managers, to help them understand their new roles.

Student and School Outcomes

School proficiency rates in math and reading improved across the city, but some high school students have had inequitable access to advanced coursework.

► Between 2011-12 and 2014-15, the reading proficiency rate gap between the city and state was closing.

► In 2013-14, black students were enrolled in advanced math coursework at a lower rate than the high school population.

Data are for all charter and district schools within the municipal boundary. Performance data from the Georgia Department of Education and coursework data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, Civil Rights Data Collection. See Methodology & Resources for more detail.

Background

About Atlanta

Over the past 10 years, Atlanta Public Schools faced a bruising cheating scandal and repeated school closures. The district has responded by trying to improve community-level engagement and by addressing poor school and student performance. In the 2016-17 school year, APS used a state initiative to launch a Charter System of Schools with the goal of giving district schools greater decisionmaking authority. APS is also pursuing a turnaround strategy, called “Partners,” that uses charter operators to manage low-performing district schools. New feeder patterns provide opportunities for charter and district schools to collaborate.

School Choice in the City

About a quarter of Atlanta schools have open enrollment, either as charter schools or open-enrollment district schools. However, many charter schools in the city give priority to students living near the school. Families can opt-in to any district school on a space-availability basis using an administrative transfer process.

Governance Model

The Atlanta Public School Board oversees district schools, and APS authorizes all but a handful of the city’s charter schools.

2016 District and Charter Student Body

Enrollment: 51,927 students
Race and ethnicity: 74% black, 15% white, 7% Hispanic, 3% other
Low-income: 76% free and reduced-price lunch

2017 School Composition 

Source: Enrollment data from Georgia Department of Education, 2016.
School data from researcher analysis of public records, 2016-17.

The Center on Reinventing Public Education is a research and policy analysis center at the University of Washington Bothell developing systemwide solutions for K–12 public education. Questions? Email crpe@uw.edu.