ATLANTA

Citywide Education Progress Report

Key Takeaways: System Reforms

Atlanta Public Schools (APS) has improved choice supports for families, expanded school-level autonomy, and continued its turnaround strategy to improve the quality of district schools. Transportation remains a major barrier to choice, and strategic engagement of families outside the school-based Go Teams is still nascent.
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Do students have access to a high-quality education?

Developing

Do school choice and supply meet family needs? This goal addresses how well the city is doing with providing families access to quality schools, what the city is doing to ensure quality schools are in every neighborhood, and how well the choice process is working for families that want to use it.

Good

► Does the school supply represent an array of models?

Over half the schools that opened, expanded, or restarted in Atlanta since 2014-15 have had nontraditional instructional models. APS opened a dual-enrollment technical high school, and some new charter operators have personalized, project-based, or dual-language models. Despite recent developments, the overall charter supply in the city is still dominated by a small number of charter operators with a college preparatory focus.

Developing

► Is the city strategically managing its school portfolio?

APS has continued to expand its Partnership school strategy to turn around low-performing district schools. By 2019, Purpose Built Schools will operate four district schools in the Carver feeder pattern, while Kindezi Gideons will enter its second year of operating a district elementary school. APS released its APS Insights in fall 2017, which displays school quality by feeder pattern. The district has criteria to guide school closure, consolidation, and turnaround decisions. But this criteria is not public, so community members do not perceive the process as transparent. Funding and local politics remain barriers to the opening of individual charter schools, despite generally high performance relative to neighboring schools.

Developing

► Is the enrollment process working for families?

By using an administrative transfer, families can enroll in any district school on a space-availability basis. However, a large majority of high-performing district schools were not accepting transfers. In 2017 APS piloted a choice application and improved its communication with families about the administrative transfer process. All charter schools have different applications and timelines, and in 2017 interviewees noted that some families have concerns about the quality of individual charter school lotteries.

Developing

► Do families have the information they need and know how to use it?

APS publishes performance metrics for all district and APS-authorized charter schools. This includes a state-developed “beat the odds score” and school climate data. However, there is no consolidated format for families to access information about curriculum, school programs, or special education and English language learner services. In 2018 interviews, finding enough information and making sense of information were cited as barriers for families.

Little in Place

► Is transportation working for families?

Transportation is still a major barrier to families using school choice in Atlanta. Few charter schools and no out-of-boundary district schools offer free transportation to students. The public bus system is not consistent, and many families do not have the means to drive their children to school. In 2017 interviews, safe passage to schools was identified as a major concern.

Is the education strategy rooted in the community?

Developing

Is the whole community engaged? Education is a citywide endeavor. When families, community organizations, and city leaders have the opportunity to provide feedback and share in the vision, the strategy is more likely to be sustainable and meet the needs of all students. In this goal, we look at how well the city is doing with engaging key stakeholders across the city.

Developing

► Does the education system respond to community feedback?

Improving responsiveness to families is a priority for APS; it has made recent improvements to its community engagement strategy to include multiple opportunities for input. District and charter schools are also trying to improve engagement with their families. Interviewees from 2017 and 2018 noted concern about relying on Go Teams for input because they do not necessarily represent all voices in the city.

Developing

► Does the city engage families in educational decisions that impact them?

APS and charter schools have made improvements in how they engage with families. The process of closing or consolidating district schools is public and provides opportunities for families to give input, but there is still a perception that this process is not transparent. Families helped shape the turnaround strategy by giving input on charter operators for Partnership schools. However, engagement around charter school openings and closures is not yet consistent.

Developing

► Are a variety of groups engaged in education?

APS has developed a number of partnerships with funders, companies, and post-secondary institutions in the past several years, enabling the district to launch an early literacy initiative and provide scholarships to students enrolling in post-secondary institutions, among other initiatives. A new nonprofit, redefinED atlanta, is focused on education strategy, and local funders have good relationships with APS. However, interviewees identified that more coordination is needed to address the needs of Atlanta’s students. APS currently relies on school-based Go Teams to represent the family and community perspective. Interviewees in 2017 and 2018 expressed concern at overreliance on Go Teams since they still vary widely in efficacy and representation of the local community.

Developing

► Is there a strong and deep coalition of support for the education strategy?

The superintendent and APS district staff regularly attend school board meetings and public forums, particularly for school closures and consolidations. However, strong civic support for education in the city and clear alignment among local leaders are not yet in place.

Is the education system continuously improving?

Developing

Do schools have the resources they need? School improvement happens at the school level, but making sure resources are available requires sound, citywide policy. Having the right talent in a city is critical for schools to be able to provide students with a quality education. Schools should also have control over their budgets so they have the resources to address the needs of their student population.

Good

► Do schools have the kinds of leaders they need?

In 2017 interviewees noted that some candidates in charter and district schools were transitioning to leadership roles before they were fully ready, while aspiring quality candidates struggled to find placements. Over the past year, APS has put in place homegrown leadership pipelines, new placement procedures, and a new definition of leadership excellence. The Rensselaerville Institute, which specializes in turnarounds, provides support to school leaders in 10 APS schools. The district is positive about the new strategies in place.

Developing

► Do schools have the kinds of teachers they need?

There are few teacher vacancies in Atlanta, but quality and fit of candidates is an ongoing concern. New strategies have been put in place over the past several years. A charter-district teacher residency program in the Maynard cluster, CREATE, is now in its third year. APS revised its recruitment and selection processes within the past year, and Relay is opening a teacher residency program in 2018-19. The Metropolitan Atlanta Policy Lab for Education will analyze teacher retention and recruitment programs as one of its initiatives with APS. However, there is not yet citywide data to guide ongoing talent work.

Developing

► Does funding equitably follow students?

In 2017-18, APS schools had flexibility in staffing allocations, but did not use a student-based allocation (SBA) formula. Starting in 2018-19, all traditional district schools will use an SBA formula that allocates 33% of district funds directly to schools. Principals will be able to develop their own budgets with input from school-based Go Teams. Partner schools (charter operators managing district schools) already have full flexibility over their budgets.

Data & Scoring

Where did we get this information?

► Interviews with district, charter, and community leaders

► Policy documents from district, charter, and state websites

► School data from each city

► A 400-parent survey administered in March, 2017 in Cleveland, Denver, Indianapolis, Memphis, New Orleans, Oakland, and Washington, D.C.

How did we score the
system reforms and goals?

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. See the Methodology & Resources page for details.

Score Levels

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.