Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Atlanta school plan could transform city — or leave families stranded

Atlanta school plan could transform city — or leave families stranded:

Atlanta school plan could transform city — or leave families stranded



Atlanta is in the midst of a complex, expensive effort to improve the city’s worst schools. Superintendent Meria Carstarphen, with the school board’s backing, has hired charter school groups to run some schools, while the system closes and consolidates others and spends tens of millions to improve other low-performing schools.
But with every school board seat up for election this year and some parents unhappy about school closures, the political solidarity that enabled Atlanta’s first steps towards transformation could shift, putting Atlanta Public Schools’ reach for transformation in doubt.
Carstarphen’s plan could could reshape entire neighborhoods and put thousands of children on paths towards better lives. It could transform some of Georgia’s worst schools and rehabilitate the reputation of a district still known for the criminal cheating conspiracy that hid the poor job some schools did of educating students. It could prove that charter school-style reform works and make Atlanta a national model for improving big-city schools.
Or it could leave Atlanta with empty schools, hundreds of students stranded in low-performing schools, and yet another set of promises unkept.
If the makeup of the school board changes with this fall’s election, Carstarphen could leave or be forced out and promises of a better future could fizzle. Carstarphen left her last superintendent’s post in Austin, Texas, for Atlanta after voters angry over similar plans to outsource schools to a charter school organization helped elect new school board members.
“I’m not against charter schools. I’m not against Dr. Carstarphen,” said Kenny Hill, who runs a volunteer tutoring program at Adamsville Primary School, which will be closed at the end of this school year and rented to a charter school. “But I am against leaving these bright kids behind … because of whoever’s agenda it is for things to be different.”
“What’s possible”
In the past two years, the Atlanta school board voted to close eight school buildings, saving about $8.5 million, and open three new schools. It funneled about $17 million this year alone into 21 of the district’s lowest performing schools to fund more tutoring, teacher training, longer school days and other work.
And the district has hired charter school groups — all nonprofits — to run half a dozen neighborhood schools. The charter groups can hire and fire staff, set school budgets, and determine how schools run. They can remove teachers without following the same state-mandated process other Atlanta schools must use. The outsourcing started this year with a single elementary school and will grow over the next three years.
The district pays the charter groups a per-student fee — about $14,500 per student this year. That’s about $3,900 more than it spends per student on average at the low-performing elementaries it’s trying to turn around on its own. District officials say that gap is due partly to costs like central office spending and utilities that aren’t included in each school’s budget. Including those costs could close the spending gap between the two types of schools.
The charter groups expect to raise millions more from foundations and other sources — and they can bring in big donors who don’t quite trust Atlanta Public Schools.
In 2019, KIPP Metro Atlanta, part of a national chain of largely high-performing Atlanta school plan could transform city — or leave families stranded:

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