There are few institutions as important in our society as our public schools. There remains an essential compact between a community and its public schools that helped make America what it is today. And this mutual pledge demands that our schools teach every child, whether they are poor or rich, black or white, to the best of their ability. It demands that our teachers possess tools needed to be successful, and entails a guarantee to parents that their kids’ interests always come first.
That trust was broken in Atlanta when it was discovered that widespread cheating on annual state exams occurred, robbing students of promised education and learning.
That scandal and subsequent trial have been a sad, painful and tragic chapter for Atlanta Public Schools and our community. Its impact will be felt for years to come.
As the trial ends, close observers of APS must know that efforts to restore the integrity of the system began three years ago and accelerated more recently with the election of a new board and appointment of a dynamic superintendent, Dr. Meria J. Carstarphen, in 2014. We are working hand-in-hand, focusing on high student outcomes to implement reforms and to ensure that a scandal like this never happens again.
We’ve set a strategic course for a new direction of improved instructional quality and systemwide efficiencies with a goal to regain the trust of our community, parents and students through hard work, integrity, transparency and leadership.
We are making progress.
A senior cabinet chief accountability office has been created, and we have built systems and procedures to ensure data integrity. It’s working to continually review recommendations to improve data monitoring and controls.
An ethics program was launched in 2011 that includes ethics advocates at each school and a mandate for all employees as a condition of employment. It also:
› Installed automatic triggers for test scores that rise or decline sharply;
› Created an anonymous hotline to report unethical behavior;
› Instituted automatic investigations of schools with unusual gains in test scores;
› Created stronger safeguards related to the handling and storage of test materials;
› Suspended incentive or bonus programs;
› Replaced 60 percent of the district’s principals.
As a result of these reforms, APS was recently recognized by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement for significantly improving auditing and test security procedures.
For students who needed additional academic assistance, our district launched a comprehensive remediation program. In fact, structured remediation is now mandatory so that we can meet the specific needs of all struggling students, not just those caught up in the scandal.
Dr. Carstarphen, the board and I have made a vow that together we will create a new culture at APS, one of trust and collaboration where every student graduates ready for college and career. This will be a culture where students love to learn, educators inspire, families engage and the community trusts the system.
Courtney English is chairman of the Atlanta Board of Education