Category Archives: Atlanta Public Schools

Atlanta looks to charter schools to manage its worst schools

If Gov. Deal’s Opportunity School District (OSD) passes this year, almost half the schools in Atlanta Public Schools (APS) could be taken over. The school district would in turn lose almost half its state and local funding.

Superintendent Meria Carstarphen is circling the wagons and last year hired Deal education adviser Erin Hames, an architect of the Opportunity District. The district’s plan to keep the money is to beat the OSD to the punch and turn the failing schools into charters under the governance of APS.

Molly Bloom with the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports:

Atlanta school district leaders could put some of the city’s worst schools under the management of charter school groups before the state does it for them.

Just before the December vacation, Atlanta Public Schools formally announced it was seeking organizations like charter school operators, local nonprofits and companies that run charter schools to improve the performance of the schools that could fall under Gov. Nathan Deal’s Opportunity School District, if voters approve the plan this fall.

If the plan is approved, the state would be able take over a limited number of Georgia’s lowest performing schools and close them, run them or convert them to charter schools.

Atlanta’s proposal comes even though some members of a parent advisory committee on how to turn around Atlanta schools said they didn’t support bringing in charter school operators.

Atlanta schools need to improve quickly, Deputy Superintendent David Jernigan said. “If that means doing some controversial things, then that means we have to do it.”

State Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) said he was “deeply skeptical” of the Atlanta’s proposal to bring in charter groups.

“One would hope that the superintendent would have a clear view and vision of how to solve the problem instead of farming it out to an outside company or entity,” he said.

The school board is scheduled to consider hiring groups in March. Anyone hired could begin work as early as this fall.

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Atlanta, DeKalb Schools Try To Ward Off Potential State Takeover

Some Atlanta-area communities could lose control of their struggling schools if voters approve a plan proposed by Gov. Nathan Deal next fall. The two districts with the most schools at risk are DeKalb County and Atlanta Public Schools. The pressure is on, and the districts are pulling out all the stops to avoid a potential state takeover.

Pressure To Perform 

At a recent DeKalb school board meeting, Morcease Beasley, DeKalb’s executive director of curriculum and instruction, explained the district’s plan to avoid a potential state takeover.

“Not only [will we have] additional support for academics through our student success tutors, our Georgia Milestones mentors and after-school extended-day programs, we also have our engagement coaches that are strategically placed at various schools, our student success coaches, our post-secondary transition specialists that help by improving the graduation rate,” he said.

Beasley took almost 20 minutes to explain the entire plan. DeKalb has identified 54 schools that could be vulnerable to a potential takeover. Beasley’s challenge is making sure they all improve enough this year to avoid that possibility.

Tosha Croom teaches at Columbia Middle School, which is on the list of 54 schools. Her students vary widely in their academic abilities. Columbia is a magnet school for high achievers, but it also has a large percentage of children from poor households.

“It’s hard to teach a child when a parent tells you, ‘You know, Mrs. Croom, I can’t read,’” she said. “And that kid is the sweetest kid; they’re not the troublemaker. So, I will be intrigued to see what the state comes up with that we’re not already doing.”

An Unclear Alternative

Croom is active in her classroom. She walks to every corner, talks to individual children and makes sure they understand. Because her students are constantly assessed, she’s also honest with them about their progress. She explains their performance on a recent test.

“These three standards, as an eighth-grade class, 48.3 percent mastered those standards,” she tells her class.

Scores like these put the school at risk of a potential state takeover. So, teachers at Columbia decided to turn testing into a competition. The class with the highest scores next time will get a pizza party.

If it works and helps improve the school faster, that’s good news for Deal.

“Nothing would please me better than for us to have no chronically failing schools in the state of Georgia, and that the constitutional amendment would simply be something we could put in the closet and never have to use,” Deal said at a recent conference of educational leaders.

It’s hard to teach a child when a parent tells you, ‘You know, Mrs. Croom, I can’t read.’ –Tosha Croom, 8th grade English/Language Arts teacher at DeKalb’s Columbia Middle School.

Deal says there are 139 failing school now that could be targeted for takeover if voters say “yes” to his plan next year.

“So, as you work hard to get those schools in your systems off the list, just know that the state board, school superintendent’s office, the governor’s office, will be there to help you,” he said. “We want you to do it.”

Columbia Middle School’s principal, Keith Jones, said he’d welcome that kind of help.

“If the state has some initiatives they know will work, I wish they would share them with us now,” he said. “I mean, if they have something special that they have, they’re going to come in and take us from ‘focus,’ to just a regular, traditional school, we would like to know so we can implement it now.”

Some details of the potential state takeover plan are yet to be determined. Officials say some decisions would depend on the needs of the individual schools, but money would play a big role. A takeover could deeply cut into the budgets of systems like DeKalb and Atlanta. Money that would go to individual schools would instead go to the state to run them.

Committing To Change

That threat is enough for APS Superintendent Meria Carstarphen to hold town hall meetings about failing schools. More than 100 people showed up at a recent meeting at APS headquarters, where Carstarphen was challenged by some community members. Parent Michelle Head said she was tired of hearing officials talk about change, especially in the wake of the test-cheating scandal.

“These are our children. These are our schools. This is our city. These are our neighborhoods, and we’ve all invested our time, our energy in trying to save all of this,” she said. “You haven’t invested anything in this; you’re just getting paid a salary. This is our life. This is our life’s blood. When you’re gone, we’re all still going to be here.”

But Carstarphen said she’s committed to improving APS.

“It’s a broken system,” she said. “I don’t know why, as a community, we don’t understand that Atlanta Public Schools is effectively broken. We have the lion’s share of every problem you could possibly imagine in urban public schools. But I am here. This is my community. They are my babies and my children, and I expect of myself to do a good job with or without the support of anyone else.”

But she does have some support. APS hired a consulting group to help develop a plan for low-performing schools. It’s also hired one of Deal’s former advisers, who designed the takeover plan. But Carstarphen made it clear to the crowd — state takeover or not — it’s time for huge improvements in APS.

“I try not to judge people, but I will say this: I know what I do in my life,” she said. “I know that I care about Atlanta. I know I didn’t come here by accident. I’m from Selma. I’m Black. I have seen what has happened to our children, and I can’t stand it for this city. I cannot stand it. We cannot do this to our Black community, and it’s got to be fixed.”

APS says 26 of its schools — or 60 percent — would qualify for state intervention if the governor’s plan were signed into law today.

With so much money at stake, heavy lobbying is expected in the coming year by supporters and opponents of the takeover idea. But school systems aren’t waiting for the vote count and have already started their own improvement plans.

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APS Comments About Class Size

Superintendent Carstarphen speaks to class size waiver issue – also announces multi-year plan to cut central administration cost

Atlanta Public School Superintendent Meria Carstarphen published a lengthy note at her blog – @Atlsuper – updating the community on the recent controversy regarding the approval of class size waiver of +5 for grades K-8 and +3 for high school.

In addition, Carstaphen indicated that the administration had started an analysis of central administration expenditures and was working on a multi-year “central administration budget reduction strategy” to free up additional resources.

For more background on the class size issues, see links to prior posts at the bottom of this page.

In her post, Carstarphen provides an overview of why the issue was brought before the Board and why the passage of the waiver was important to the to the upcoming budget process. In her statement she said,

My recommendation to continue these waivers was so that our schools, as well as the district, would have maximum flexibility going into the budgeting process. For example, this would give the Board time to thoughtfully consider future Board-approved options and plans, including, but not limited to, findings in our recent equity audit, Board-approved budget parameters, and the upcoming flexibility and operating models application.

In effect, the approved waivers now become a Board approved budget parameter for FY16 and, unless the Board provides further guidance on the matter, the initial budget will likely be prepared using the maximum class size to determine school level resource allocations – just as it was this past year.

Carstarphen also focuses on the need for flexibility in preparing the upcoming budget so that any discretionary dollars can be allocated to programs or priorities established by the administration and the Board.

When I went to the Board… with the recommendation for continuing the class-size waivers that have been in place since 2011, I did so with the understanding that we all knew that this was simply granting us the same flexibility we currently have as we go into the budgeting process to make recommendations on where these discretionary dollars should be used. 

Having a class size waiver grants us this flexibility to consider all options, but discontinuing this waiver would effectively mean that a significant percentage, if not all, of our discretionary dollars would be required to go towards smaller class sizes without the opportunity to weigh other needs.

She also addressed the issue that different cluster have different needs and the flexibility granted by the waiver would allow each cluster to allocate resource in a manner that most suited the specific requirements of the students.

To the extent that we are able to push new (because we will not be able to just cut our way to excellence) and redirected resources into the schools with this increased flexibility, which I am committed to doing, I suspect that some clusters may decide to invest in smaller class sizes.  But in other clusters where class size is not the pressing concern, they will likely prioritize other needs. 

What I have learned about Atlanta is that a solution for one school is not always the right solution for another school, and imposing the same solutions across the board with one big brush stroke only further exacerbates the inequities that exist within our school communities, which are well-documented in the extensive equity audit.

I would note that while there are many issues documented in the equity audit, the allocation of school level resources is not one of them, as the equity audit failed to address how financial resources are allocated in the district (except for playgrounds, science labs and some limited information on PTA resources). In fact, until this past October APS issued the comprehensive FY15 Budget Book (with no public notice that it had done so), the district has never previously presented school level budgets. Additionally, the information presented was insufficient to determine if the resource allocations were equitable based on student needs.

However, in the regular Board meeting on December 1st, the administration did present information on the class size issue that pointed to some very significant differences in class sizes in the district (see presentation here). As an example, the school with the smallest average class size has 17.3 students per class in grades 1-3. At the other end of the spectrum, the school with the highest average class size has 23.6 or an average of 6.3 more students in a classroom. And in grades 4-5, the differential is an average of 8.7 more students. That is a pretty big difference – and may be why Carstarphen reached the following conclusion,

I suspect that some clusters may decide to invest in smaller class sizes.  But in other clusters where class size is not the pressing concern, they will likely prioritize other needs. 

While this sounds good, I am still unclear where the additional dollars will come from to give the schools that want to prioritize class sizes the ability to do so. The Board has approved the revenue parameter for FY16 at $658 million which is at the same level as FY15 (see here). So there is no new incremental revenues (unless the Board approves an increase in taxes).  As such, the budget allocation for schools will likely be at similar levels as in FY15.

Carstarphen did announce a potential source for increasing discretionary funds that might be allocated to the schools. In her blog post, she stated,

… In addition, we began the analysis of our central administration expenses.  We have laid the groundwork for a multi-year central administration budget reduction strategy, all with the goal of identifying as many discretionary dollars for our schools as possible. 

But at the same time she indicated that,

…we will not be able to just cut our way to excellence…

So while this effort to cut central administration costs is important – and long past due – I question whether the effort in the near term will substantially increase the resources available to a school in sufficient amounts to make reductions in class sizes. I hope I am proven wrong on this, but the numbers and other approved budget parameters do not leave much room for a substantial amount of additional resources being redirected to the schools to address class sizes, even if that is a priority for specific schools.

There is also still one nagging question that Carstarphen did not address.

Why was this waiver passed in advance of a full and complete assessment within the context of a thorough FY16 budget discussion?

She notes that “flexibility” is needed to allocate discretionary resources in a manner that most benefits the clusters and student needs. Not passing the waiver until after the FY16 budget is tentatively set does not hamper the administration ability to propose a budget that is consistent with the administration’s priorities (it also does not constrain the administration ability to begin the hiring process for new teachers). It also does not constrain the Board from making or changing priorities for resource allocations consistent with its overall policy objectives.

However, passing the waiver now does constrain the Board from using the class size waiver policy approval as leverage to push for a re-allocation of resources from administrative functions to in-school functions.

We will see how this develops.

Robert Stockwell is the financial watchdog for APS and posts at Financial Deconstruction

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[Class] Size Matters

The Atlanta Board of Education reversed an earlier vote this week rejecting a waiver of state rules on the maximum number of students in a class. Jarod Apperson, a forensic auditor now working on a doctorate in economics at Georgia State, has made APS a focus and blogs about the district at Grading Atlanta. Jarod Apperson sent this note of caution to Dr. Carstarphen about allowing class sizes to rise.

By Jarod Apperson

I am writing in hopes of influencing your priorities with respect to class size as you continue to formulate a vision for our district’s schools.  From my understanding of the class-size research and knowledge of the Atlanta schools, I have become persuaded that a substantial reduction in class size would be the easiest action you could take to improve student learning.

Understanding that the district faces a number of challenges and competing priorities, I write not to make demands, but with confidence that if you have a thorough understanding of the issue, the appeal of class-size reductions will be evident.

Below, I present a series of relevant questions and attempt to provide informative answers.

  1. Are smaller class sizes an effective means to raise student achievement?

Yes. As most Georgians are aware, APS lags behind the state in student achievement. What fewer realize is that the size of this gap is not insurmountably large.  The average APS student scores about 0.25 standard deviations below the state average.  I begin with this information to provide context that will help you evaluate the research on class size in terms of its implications for the district.

Credible research design is essential to developing good causal estimates, and both randomized experiments and quasi-experimental research indicates that class size reductions positively impact student achievement.

Evidence from the Tennessee STAR experiment shows that students assigned to classes with a maximum of 17 students scored 0.15 to 0.20 standard deviations above students assigned to classes with a maximum of 25 students.

Thus, the experiment’s results suggest by reducing its maximum class size by 8 students, APS could close between 60% and 80% of its achievement gap with the state.

Quasi-experimental designs, which are more common because they can be conduced with observational data, have found similar results.  The most famous of these is an Angrist and Lavy (1999) study using Israeli data.  The authors use a fuzzy regression discontinuity design to evaluate differences in achievement for schools just above and below a maximum class size threshold.  They find results consistent with the STAR study.

Importantly, both studies indicate that the positive effects are even larger for disadvantaged students, a significant fact in a district were approximately 80% of students qualify for free and reduced lunch.

Unfortunately, the debate on class size was muddied by a number of ill-designed studies in the 1980’s and 1990’s that purported to show no effect, but in fact did not employ empirical designs that would allow the researchers to isolate the effect of class size on student achievement.  Though the academic literature has moved toward more credible designs, these studies continue to influence popular culture and were most recently featured in Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath.  Northwestern economist Diane Whitmore describes additional research in her 2014 summary of the class-size literature.

For more local and (admittedly) anecdotal evidence, we can turn to an APS charter school that explicitly prioritizes class size.  I serve on the Board of Directors for the Kindezi School, an Atlanta charter that sets a maximum class size of eight students across all grades.

The average Kindezi student scores about 0.31 standard deviations above the state average, and according to the state’s Beating the Odds measure the school ranks in the 99th percentile statewide when benchmarked against schools serving similar students.

So, yes, reducing class size is an effective means to raise student achievement.  Credibly designed research supports the importance of class size and anecdotal evidence in our own back yard confirms this body of work.  If APS were to substantially reduce class size, it could decrease or potentially even eliminate the gap between its achievement and the state average.

  1. Are smaller class sizes easier to implement than other initiatives?

Yes. For reasons that are not always clear to me, class-size discussions in the district often meander into a territory where class size is pitted against effective teachers.  In response to a suggestion that the district prioritize class size, it is not uncommon to hear “the most important thing for student achievement is placing an effective teacher in every classroom.”  This is a flawed argument for two reasons.

First, it is a false choice.  Reductions in class size need not come at the expense hiring effective teachers. The district’s historical struggles to attract top talent are not the result of financial constraints. APS offers one of the most competitive compensation packages of any district in the nation.

Instead, a perceived culture of incompetence is what has long dissuaded talented people from joining the district.  Under your leadership, the district can work to improve this culture while prioritizing class size.

Second, reducing class size is easy while placing an effective teacher in every classroom is easier said than done.  A recent Education Week report showed that New York City has been able to turn around its first-year teaching pool, but it took a very long time.

In 1985, 42% of the city’s teachers came from the bottom 1/3 of the SAT distribution.  Today, only 24% come from the bottom third, while 40% come from the top third.  That transition took 30 years.

By developing a pipeline at higher-caliber universities and continuing its partnership with alternative recruitment programs, APS can and should raise the bar for teacher selection, but results will undoubtedly be incremental.  Class size reductions are an effective policy that can be implemented immediately, and there is no credible reason they should come at the expense of prioritizing effective teaching hires.

  1. Does the return on investment for class size reduction make it worthwhile?

Yes. When APS publishes estimates of what it would cost to reduce class size, the district typically uses a cost per teacher of $80,000.  While this may be accurate from a cash-flow perspective it is not appropriate for long-term decision making because state funding the following year is a function of the number and experience level of teacher employed by APS in the prior year.

Here’s the reality: for every incremental dollar APS invests in class size reductions, the state reimburses it 32 cents, and it gets to keep another 30 cents of local property tax revenue.  So when the finance department presents you a proposal with a $20M price tag, if you are willing to set short-term cash flow issues aside, the real incremental cost is about $8M.

I will attempt to explain the basics of this without getting too wonky on the Quality Basic Education (QBE) formula.  QBE is designed to incentivize the prioritization of teacher hires over alternative uses of district money.  The way the formula works, districts are responsible for paying the base salary of certified teachers, payroll taxes, and contributions to the Teacher’s Retirement System. The state then reimburses districts $11k for health insurance.

Additionally, the following year, the state pays the district the incremental salary earned by the employee as a result of having years of experience and/or any advanced degrees.  Both of these payments (T&E/HI) impact the share of local property taxes the district distributes to charter schools.  When all three sources are combined, APS ends up net down about $30,000 per teacher rather than $80,000.

The short story is this: investing in smaller classes makes solid financial sense because a significant portion of the expenditure ultimately comes back to the district in the form of higher revenue the following year.

  1. Do smaller class sizes disproportionately benefit non Title 1 schools?

No. The final topic I want to address is the notion that class sizes are a “Northside issue,” and students in the district’s Title 1 schools have no stake in the class size discussion.  It is frustrating that some misappropriate the language of social justice to buttress opinions that reinforce the status quo.

As I explained above, the class size research indicates disadvantaged students actually benefit more from small classes than middle-class students.  It is true that a number of Title 1 schools in APS already reduce class sizes by using their Title 1 earnings and/or supplemental resources such as EIP teachers.

However, we must acknowledge the limitations that choice poses on their educational program.  If supplemental resources are being dedicated to class size reduction, they aren’t being used for other interventions.  They aren’t funding individualized after-school tutoring.  They aren’t funding small group pullouts.

If APS allocates additional teachers to all its schools, including Title 1 schools, that frees up supplemental resources. It returns those resources for use in targeted interventions aimed at the students most in need.

I hope that this information proves useful as you evaluate ways to raise student achievement in the district.  The financial benefits and proven effectiveness of class size reductions suggest you should find ways to make it a priority in your plans.

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Atlanta school board says no to allowing larger classes

In a split vote, the Atlanta school board rejected an administration request to apply for a state waiver that would allow the district to exceed state rules on the number of students in a class.

Current Atlanta Public Schools average class sizes by school range from 12 to 27, according to board documents, but some classes are significantly larger.

The waiver rejection comes after the board prioritized smaller class sizes below teacher raises when approving the district’s budget in April, also in a split vote.

“At some point, I’d like a line drawn in the sand,” on the issue, board vice-chair Nancy Meister said before Monday’s vote.

Carstarphen said the administration is not ready to undertake a district-wide effort to reduce class sizes. Even some of the data underlying class size counts is inaccurate, she said.

“If we make changes right now we don’t have the opportunity to really prepare for the future,” she said.

The deadline for submitting the waiver request is this spring, Carstarphen said.

On Monday, the board accepted a request to apply for a separate waiver that would allow the district to deviate from state rules about the percentage of money spent on instruction versus other areas, such as administration.

The amount of money Atlanta’s school system dedicates to administration is among the highest in the nation when compared to other major cities, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures.

Unless a district has a waiver, state law requires that spending on instruction is 65 percent of a district’s total spending or that the percentage of spending devoted to instruction increases by 2 percent compared to the previous year.

It has been common for Georgia school districts to apply for class size and spending waivers. Atlanta has applied for and received both waivers in past years.

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New Atlanta schools superintendent’s mid-year evaluation won’t be public

If you were hoping to hear how new Atlanta schools superintendent Meria Carstarphen is doing so far, you likely won’t hear about it from the Atlanta school board.

Tonight the Atlanta Public Schools board is scheduled to hold Carstarphen’s mid-year evaluation, the board’s first formal look at the district’s progress since she started work this summer. But the entire evaluation will be held behind closed doors, as allowed under state law.

“All content of my evaluation is not public information,” Carstarphen told board members last month.

Under state law, school boards are permitted to keep school superintendent evaluations confidential. Most school boards keep superintendent evaluations secret, although they may be released if both the superintendent and the board agree to do so, according to the Georgia School Boards Association. The Cobb County school board released nearly all parts of its evaluation of former superintendent Michael Hinojosa earlier this year.

Board chairman Courtney English said holding the mid-year evaluation out of public view allows the board to get “an unvarnished sense of where the district is.”

Given that Carstarphen has been on the job for a relatively short time, “We want to make sure that we give her ample time to implement our collective vision for the system,” English said.

Carstarphen will also be evaluated at the end of the school year and the board intends to release information about the results of that evaluation, English said.

“At the end of the year, I think you’ll see a crystal clear picture on where the district is,” he said.

Evaluations for former superintendent Erroll Davis were also conducted behind closed doors, English said. Former superintendent Beverly Hall was evaluated in private session, but some reports on her performance — including whether she earned bonus money — were public.

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Darn Good Charter School

The school, which opened in 2000, set out to refute the myth that poor and minority students can’t learn. 

By Bill Torpy | The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A visit to Fulton County court this week was a reminder of all that was sordid about Atlanta Public Schools: teachers correcting wrong answers on tests to make students appear good on paper; unrelenting pressure from higher-ups using a “No Excuses” mantra to instill a culture of cheating; administrators stonewalling, prevaricating and threatening when asked to investigate what was happening.

And, of course, there were the students, the kids left behind, the ones cheated out of a shot at a future because their academic weaknesses were papered over. Gov. Sonny Perdue, who testified Monday about all this, once described it as a conveyor belt to prison:

“That is like cancer; it does not get better in and of itself when that student goes from the third grade, to the fourth grade, to the fifth grade, to the sixth grade. Those are the students you see lining up at Crim (High School) in the ninth grade and then, the next time we see them is in the Department of Juvenile Justice and in our corrections system.”

Crim sits on Memorial Drive and is the collection point for low-achieving students who don’t fit in elsewhere. Alonzo A. Crim, the first black school superintendent of a major Southern city, has the unfortunate “honor” of having his name become shorthand for all that is wrong with an urban school district.

But a mile east on Memorial Drive is another school, one that has become synonymous with hope and renewal: the Charles R. Drew Charter School, Atlanta’s first charter school and a civic effort that is touted as a way to guide low-income minority kids to achievement. Charles Drew, a black man, was a surgeon whose pioneering work in blood storage helped save untold lives during World War II.

Thursday, the Washington-based Education Trust made Drew’s namesake one of three schools nationally to receive the 2014 “Dispelling the Myth Award,” which goes to schools helping to bring high achievement to minority or low-income students. The myth the award refers to is that those kinds of kids can’t perform as well as kids born with more advantages.

Drew Charter opened in 2000 after an urban revitalization project tore down East Lake Meadows and replaced the hellish housing projects with The Villages of East Lake, a mixed-income community nested next to the historic East Lake Golf Club. It was a then-radical idea shepherded by Atlanta development mogul Tom Cousins and seconded by not-yet-mayor Shirley Franklin.

When it opened, all but two of the school’s 240 kids were black and almost all came from poor families with sad back-stories.

The school overcame the inherent low expectations and, with community buy-in and the help of a lot of rich folks’ money, created what board chairwoman Cynthia Kuhlman calls “a cradle-to-college pipeline.” Its a place where students have access to many social-service bells and whistles not available in your typical public school.

Drew started out with elementary grades, grew to junior high and then, two years ago, despite some APS resistance (Superintendent Erroll Davis argued there was a glut of empty high school seats) went on to build a $55 million high school that resembles an ultra-modern airport terminal.

Currently, some 1,500 kids are enrolled, with the oldest in the 10th grade.

The school, which gives first chance at admission to kids from the adjoining Villages of East Lake and then to residents of the East Lake and Kirkwood communities, pushes STEAM — Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics — and slowly has coaxed, driven and inspired students to excel. The school has longer days, longer school years, uniforms, airy study spaces, computers, robots and classes where students break up into work groups to tackle projects.

“We’re past meeting standards; we’re starting to exceed standards,” Kuhlman said. Drew’s most recent scores on the infamous Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT, the venue for the APS’s cheating) show that science was the only subject in which fewer than half the kids got “exceeds.” And 49 percent got “exceeds” in science. For most subjects, the number of kids scoring “does not meet” is in the low single digits.

Students like Simone Obleton, a 10th-grader, and Anna West, 7th, have embraced the less regimented style of learning, one that often puts students into groups and has them resolve problems. The idea behind it is that that’s what you’re called upon to do in real life, so why not start here?

Often, they must report back to their class with what they have learned, which is harder than memorizing an answer, because when you’re explaining it to your classmates “you have to know what you’re talking about,” said Anna. Truly a life lesson many adults haven’t mastered.

In recent years, the school has grown more “diverse” in that it’s drawing white kids from families in the surrounding, and increasingly gentrifying, neighborhoods. More than a quarter of the newest kindergarten class is white. That’s a good sign, because it’s a long-standing tradition that white folks won’t put their kids in a mostly black school unless it’s on an upswing.

The success of the school has bolstered charter school fans who argue, “Hey, looky here, this works. Let’s break down the horrible monolithic school system.”

But not all charter schools do well. And when they do, it may be partly because the participants are self-selected. The kids going to charter schools, even those coming from low-income families, have parents with enough wherewithal to bother to sign them up to something they see as special. If the parents go through that trouble, there’s a good chance they’ll help Johnny or Shauna do their homework, too.

Charter boosters talk about replicating the school’s model, but there is a limit. In fact, you’d need 33 more Drews to give all 50,300 APS students the same environment and resources. The problem is, there aren’t 33 Tom Cousinses or 33 historic golf clubs to go around.

Still, it’s a start.

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