Recently, there is been a public conversation about the Atlanta Public Schools. The primary focus has been around the leadership vacuum, and how the governance of the school system should be reinvented so that it creates a healthy environment for the next superintendent to lead. The focus on the board has deflected the conversation from the environment that allowed cheating activities and distorted test score data to exist. According to the Constitution of the State of Georgia, Atlanta’s children deserve an “adequate” education. But shouldn’t our children deserve a “quality” education and not just an “adequate” one? If we are to re-establish APS as a model urban school district in the United States, there are certain principles that any new Superintendent and School Board must cherish if APS is to rebuild the quality of its product and trust within the Atlanta community:
1. A school board needs to be created with the focus on the educational well-being of the students and not on organizational politics. Bylaws should be completely overhauled so that in-fighting does not recur. Given the recent activities that caught the ire of the U.S. Secretary of Education, the APS might fare better with an entirely reconstituted School Board. This would signal a “fresh start” in the minds of any prospective Superintendent candidate as well as its constituents. The strategic plan of the new Superintendent will fail to be implemented without a cohesive, supportive School Board.
2. A culture of accountability needs to be established. All stakeholders must be held accountable so that cheating scandals to inflate AYP data does not ever happen again. Teachers must be given sufficient professional development, and the administrators and teachers union must agree on a fair and balanced teacher compensation and evaluation plan. However, let us be perfectly clear about one thing: just as its unfair to assess a student’s performance on one test score, we should also not evaluate a teacher as “effective” or “ineffective” under the same criteria. A multidimensional formula must be created.
3. Digital learning and blending learning pedagogy must be enhanced in the curriculum. APS must look at how digital learning tools can be broadly incorporated into the classroom, so that students will be more intrinsically motivated, while also utilizing stimuli that are an integral part of their daily lives. There is sufficient research in the neuroscience area about evolving brain structures, and we also have sufficient data demonstrating how certain digital learning tools can lead to successful learning outcomes (e.g., self-efficacy, goal setting, collaborative learning, inquiry-based learning, etc.) There are national organizations spearheading the public policy in this area, including Digital Learning Now , co-led by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.
4. Reinstate the arts back into the school curriculum. Educators must realize that the arts lay a strong foundation for learning. School should not be compartmentalized as it was the past 200 years. We must take an interdisciplinary approach to learning, and the arts teach children a great deal about creativity, social and emotional learning. A research study recently published in Child Development magazine concludes unequivocally the importance of social and emotional skills on the academic learning process. This is critically important in urban areas which have a large proportion of not only underprivileged students, but also students from unstable family structures. These causal factors cannot be overlooked in the education equation.
These are just a handful of principles that must be incorporated into the reinvented strategic vision for Atlanta Public Schools. We are in a period of adverse economic forces, and we are also in a period where emerging countries are showing material improvements in their education programs. The world is catching up to the economic competitiveness of the United States. However, it is understood that innovation and entrepreneurship is what built our country, and if we are to maintain our international competitiveness, then we must focus on the basic tenets of our culture: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. If we provide our citizens with a solid education, then not only will these tenets be fully realized, but we can rest assured that the next generation of leaders will be successful in ensuring our civilization is sustainable for generations to come.