April 10, 2008
ATLANTA SCHOOLS: Help us get even better
By Hosanna Johnson
For the Journal-Constitution
Published on: 04/10/08
The Atlanta Education Fund commends the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center for its recent report "Cities in Crisis: A Special Analytic Report on High School Graduation," highlighted on the front page of the April 1 AJC. Comparing cities' graduation rates using a consistent formula is ambitious and laudable.
As part of the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings has on her agenda to require all states to use one formula for calculating graduation and dropout rates. The adoption of this method would attempt to correct a major flaw in NCLB —- that there are no high school completion goals.
Having a standard method for calculating graduation rates is a good starting point. But we need to keep our eyes on the real prize —- ensuring that every student in every school graduates from high school prepared to succeed in life. Have we truly accomplished anything if our students graduate but are unable to successfully pursue post-secondary education or earn enough money to support a family?
There is no question that Atlanta Public Schools has made progress at the elementary level. APS and Gwinnett were the only metro Atlanta school districts where 100 percent of the elementary schools made adequate yearly progress —- the state's goals for what a school should achieve year to year. Many argue that Georgia's standards may be too low. However, APS is also the only urban school district to show progress in every grade, every subject and every year on the National Assessment of Educational Progress —- the nation's most rigorous standardized test.
Given APS' past performance, we can look forward with hope. Moreover, there are best practices to emulate. For example, a local education fund in New York City, New Visions for New Schools, manages 75 high schools that collectively have graduation rates 20 percentage points higher than the citywide average. Similar to APS, New Visions' student population is 93 percent minority and 82 percent free and reduced-fee lunch.
New Visions for New Schools attributes its student success to three factors: 1) strong collaboration among stakeholders; 2) small schools with positive relationships between teachers and students, with a clear focus on academic rigor and adherence to standards; and 3) robust tracking and regular review of each student's progress toward graduation.
APS has recently embarked on an ambitious plan to transform its high schools to smaller settings to provide additional attention and support for students. The system has a goal of a 90 percent graduation rate, but it will not be able to do it alone. We must all get involved and stay informed. A good place to start would be attending APS' High School Transformation Community Awareness meeting from 6 to 8:30 p.m. April 15 at Douglass High School, 225 Hamilton E. Holmes Drive.
Let's keep our eyes on the prize —- strong public schools lead to a strong Atlanta.
> Hosanna Johnson is president of the Atlanta Education Fund, an independent nonprofit whose mission
is to sustain and accelerate student achievement in Atlanta's public schools.