Georgia’s academic record was a selling point for state politicians, until recently. With an 80.9% graduation rate Georgia was a national standard for education, a budding cosmopolitan of the south, and, perhaps most notably, a reason for companies to do business in Georgia.
The success of Georgia’s education system was called into question three years ago when potentially the largest cheating scandal in American history rocked the Atlanta Public School system. After a long-term investigation it was found that at least 172 teachers and principals in 44 Atlanta Public Schools cheated to raise student scores on high-stakes standardized tests, thus cheating the system and the students. This dishonesty skewed the scores of thousands of students and in turn misrepresenting the success of the students, administrators, and APS in general.
The APS system continues to suffer from the after-effects of the embarrassing controversy. On June 14, a teacher was cleared of the district’s charges of cheating for the first time, and there are many teachers still awaiting their own hearings. According to Courtney English, At-Large Member of Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education and an employee at Child First USA, the board is essentially working on “rebuilding APS from the ground up.”
Georgia’s B-average academic record was blighted once again this past April, when a new federally mandated formula made Georgia revise their stellar 80% graduation rate. This formula, which will make all states more consistent in their reporting of graduation numbers, does not count students as graduates if they took over four years to complete high school, among other changes. The new estimates sent Georgia’s graduation rate plummeting nearly 13 percentage points to a weak 67.4%, meaning that Georgia now trails most of its regional neighbors and now ranks 48th in the country for education.
The statistics are bleak, especially when considering how Atlanta Public Schools play into the mix. According to English, nearly 5,000 students drop out of Atlanta Public Schools each year. In fact, at a low 52%, Atlanta Public Schools hold the second lowest graduation rate among all Georgia school districts. Twenty schools in metro Atlanta failed to graduate even half of their students. Of course, as with all statistics, these should be taken with a grain of salt; with the new calculation, if a child withdraws from school on Friday but then returns the following Monday, he is still counted as a dropout.
Of course, the reason for this blog is not to depress Atlanta residents or ward parents away from sending their students to Atlanta Public Schools. Rather, these facts are being shared to incite a change. There is clearly a problem with our education system, one that can only be repaired by the dedication and support of teachers, students, administrators, APS Board members, and community groups and members. At Child First USA, our goal is to take a seemingly broken school system and help fix it. By specifically helping those most at-risk of dropping out, African American and Latino males, we are hoping to do our part in reversing the decline of the Atlanta Public School system. With your support, we believe we can rightfully and truthfully return the graduation rate of Atlanta Public Schools to 80.9% — or higher.