Is Atlanta A Model for Other School Districts?

Although this response to the recent AJC article discussing the progress of Atlanta Public School is vastly opposite of our typical post, I wanted to show the opposing view by Ed Johnson, advocate for quality in public education, as presented in his urgent open Letter to Charleston County School District Trustees regarding Atlanta Public Schools as model district. 

26 April 2019

Post in South Carolina:

Board of Trustees
Charleston County School District
75 Calhoun Street
Charleston SC 29401

Re: “Has Atlanta Public Schools come far enough to be a model for other districts?”

Dear Charleston County School District Trustees:

Please, don’t do it.

Please don’t look to Atlanta Public Schools as a model. More specifically and correctly, please do not look to the Atlanta Board of Education and the APS superintendency as embodying a model of quality public education leadership worthy of emulation.

As regards academic outcomes for especially children labeled “black,” please understand that the leadership of APS continually show they know only to steer the district to experience change after change after change, but never improvement.

Also please understand that the leadership of APS imbibe and entangle private interests, free-market ideology, behaviorism, racialism, and other regressive traits of today’s school reform movement and charter schools, not unlike yesteryear’s institution of slavery.

Since the “school turnaround” strategy they implemented just over four years ago is starting to show signs of failure—predictably so, by the way—the APS leadership are now trying to get ahead of that looming failure by steering the district to change yet again. However, their change this time portends the most egregious, inherently unethical, anti-public education, and anti-democracy change ever.

Now the APS leadership are actively driving the district to become a free market-styled “portfolio of schools.” As such, it will be required to manage district schools as one would manage a portfolio of stocks—viz., continually assess performance, keep the top performers, sell off the lowest performers—and even as eighteenth century planters managed portfolios and schedules of “hands” on their plantations (see Accounting for Slavery: Masters and Management).

Deceitfully marketed as “Creating a System of Excellent Schools,” APS, as a portfolio of schools, will serve the interests of charter school operators and other private actors known to contribute to destroying public education as a public good fundamental to sustaining and advancing democratic practice ever closer to democratic ideals.

So, with that said, if you, Charleston County School District Board of Trustees, are honestly and genuinely interested to learn what authentic education system improvement looks like, academically and otherwise, consider visiting and learning from public school districts that have “walked the walk” and not merely “talked the talk”—districts such:
Iredell-Statesville Schools, Statesville, North Carolina; 2008 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award Recipient Montgomery County Public Schools, Rockville, Maryland; 2010 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award Recipient Leander Independent School District, Leander Texas; a textbook case of a never-ending journey of continual improvement “The Deming Way” Mission Hill K-8 School, a pilot public school founded by famed progressive educator Deborah Meier, operating with Ayla Gavins as principal, and journeying on the mission “to help parents raise youngsters who will maintain and nurture the best habits of a democratic society be smart, caring, strong, resilient, imaginative and thoughtful.”

Moreover, in case you have yet to know it, the destructive wave of education reform much as the APS leadership know it and have practiced it, especially during the last five years, is beginning to subside and crash.

Even a leading charter schools proponent admits as much:
“The era of the nontraditional ‘no excuses’ urban superintendents is finished. Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, and Tom Boasberg have all moved on. There are few comparable replacements. The vision of a radically transformed public education system with virtual schools, new charter models, and online personalization has crashed on the shores of reality.” —Van Schoales

Surely, you, the leadership of the Charleston County School District, do not wish to drive your district back to the trailing edge of the now subsiding wave only to have public education in Charleston County eventually crash along with where the leadership of Atlanta Public Schools is driving public education in Atlanta to crash.

Kindly set me straight if I am wrong about what you want to accomplish for the Charleston County School District.

Ed Johnson, Advocate for Quality in Public Education,Atlanta GA | (404) 505-8176 | [email protected]


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