By Will Shevlin, Candler Park Resident
Candler Park is faced with the potential redistricting of three schools: Mary Lin (unlikely), Inman, and Grady. While many parents (and some non-parents) are energized about this issue, much of the neighborhood is not. But this potential change is important to all of us. Our representative to the Atlanta Board of Education, Cecily Harsch-Kinnane, will be at the CPNO meeting on Monday, November 21 at The Old Stone Church (470 Candler Park Drive). Please consider attending to learn more about this issue and share your views.
If APS schools were uniform in their students’ success, redistricting would merely be an inconvenience. We would discover new friends, roads, routines, and bus stops. However, the schools to which we may be redistricted to (Coan Middle School and Jackson High School) do not perform as highly on standardized tests as our current schools.
Standardized testing has become a bad word but it is currently the only objective criteria we have to compare one school's success against another. The following independent school ratings come from schooldigger.com. The disparity between CRCT test scores and the rankings are large enough that nuances concerning either school would not cover the delta in the rankings. While not perfect, it is all we have.
School Digger gives the following ratings to Inman and Coan Middle schools.
Inman is rated 46th out of 479 middle schools in the state.
Coan is rated 422nd out of 479 middle schools in the state.
The following links will provide more information about Inman:
The following link will provide additional information about Coan:
School Digger gives the following ratings to Grady and Jackson:
Grady is rated 135th out of 399 high schools in the state.
Jackson is rated 377th out of 399 high schools in the state.
The focus group led by the consultants hired by APS came up with statements like the ones below. (The full demographer report can be found here.)
"While cohesive neighborhoods are strengths, they can also be a weakness because residents of different neighborhoods have little contact with each other. Parental perceptions of schools located in areas they are not familiar with may be inaccurate."
“Fear of change” is prevalent in some areas. Perceptions of resulting property value losses from neighborhoods being zoned to poorer performing schools will cause opposition among many residents, even households without children in APS."
Perhaps we should throw out the test scores that the federal government determined were a good way to assess the success of the nation’s schools. I disagree: While some aspects of No Child Left Behind may be flawed, every industry and management team seeks to objectively measure their successes and failures. Currently the only objective criteria any homeowner has in determining the value of local schools are test scores.
But for the sake of argument, let’s dismiss these test scores as only a perception. The reason we don’t want to go to another school is because we are unfamiliar with all that another school has to offer. We just don’t get out enough, and these distant, unfamiliar landscapes are unknown to us. We are afraid of change and have a poor perception of these distant lands. What other data points do we have that would help determine if these are inaccurate perceptions and a myopic view of our fair city?
Perhaps we could look at parent and student demand for schools in the city. Typically, markets act in a rational manner over the long haul. Home purchasing is a long-term decision that requires more thought than should I buy or sell pork bellies on a Thursday afternoon. After an examination of the enrollment of schools and test scores, I discovered a high correlation between test scores and the demand placed on the capacity of the school. The market for public education in the city of Atlanta seems to place higher capacity demands on performing schools over non-performing schools.
Again we seek additional data points. Perhaps people purchased homes in their neighborhoods and cocooned into their local areas and also had poor perception of other options. The overcrowding and under enrolled correlation is a result of a collective unfamiliarity and poor perceptions. What other data points do we have to assess this? How do we look to the outside world to help us solve this problem?
Who would have the best familiarity of school options and have the most accurate perception of school choice? Currently, 25% of the students at Grady High School are from out of zone (based on the demographers’ report). These students are former magnet students that were able to remain at Grady after the magnet program was dissolved and transfer students that select Grady over their zoned schools. Once the magnet program was discontinued one would expect that some of these students would venture back to their neighborhood friends and schools. Surely it would be more convenient to stay closer to home and leverage the APS transportation. However, these students with the best ability to assess the differences in schools – and the opportunity to choose among them – have opted to remain at Grady. In addition, students that Grady has allowed to transfer in from other zones chose Grady over their school and have not drifted back to their neighborhood schools. I don’t know if Grady continues to allow transfers but there is not an outflow of students from Grady. There is an inflow from parents and students with arguably have the best information upon which to make a decision.
In addition to the students allowed to transfer and the former magnet students, there is a third group of students that change zones. They typically do not self identify because this is the group that is fraudulently transferring from one school to another by way of fabricated leases and fake utility bills. At multiple meetings at Inman and Grady, Chantal Mullins has stated that the problem is very hard to solve and that parents are very inventive in their fraud to obtain a spot in one of the overcrowded schools. She also shared that they don’t have the resources to tackle the issue. Inman has aggressively pursued the issue on its own without APS support for several years. Over the same number of years enrollment has decreased. It is unknown the percentage to which this exercise has reduced the student population. Regardless how many students fall into this category, parents are willing to commit fraud to place their children in performing schools. These again would be parents who live in one zone and choose another zone for their children. What is the cause of their inability to see through their inaccurate poor perception? By definition this group lives close to a school and still choose another.
The fourth group is APS teachers have the ability to enroll their students in the schools in which they teach. Sounds like a good idea. I think teachers close to their kids have easier commutes and it can only positively impact my children’s educations. However, exceptions have also been made for APS teachers and central office employees to transfer to overcrowded performing schools. It would be very interesting if APS published a current accounting of the pattern of these transfers across the system. These transfer patterns would provide another method of assessing the accuracy of school perception. These educators perhaps would be in the very best place to assess school performance. It is their business and they have a firsthand account of school performance. Perhaps they also get out a little more than we do and visit schools across the district. It would be interesting to know if anyone has an accounting of these transfers and if they are still allowed to occur? Will grandfathering of transfer students be treated differently that students that experience a zone change?
Let’s also examine our fear of the drop in property values due to potentially poorer schools. The demographers have stated that in open meetings that people do not purchase homes based on schools. I found this odd and was surprised by the statement but surely he should know more than myself. I looked for outside data points to inform my opinion. I found several studies that were published by professors from UCLA, Dartmouth, and Clemson that found that school performance and home prices were highly correlated. I also found a study by the Rand Corporation (arguably the number one research organization in the world). Rand found that a 1 percent higher average reading or math score in Chicago and Massachusetts was associated with a 1 percent higher property value. I doubt that Atlanta would be any different.
The reality is many parents and homeowners believe that our current schools are in fact better than the alternatives. While perhaps not all but probably more than not considered schools in their home location. Some even devoted monthly income to a higher mortgage payment and a smaller home in order to attend Mary Lin, Inman, and Grady. Change is always hard. But you make change infinitely hard by sugar-coating it. No one has produced an objective measure that changes the current perceptions of homeowners, transfer students, or former magnet students.
Candler Park believes that we have a better deal now than any others that have been suggested. We want to keep our current option. The APS school board has the power to keep or change our current deal. Changes will negatively impact some neighborhoods and positively impact others. Our APS school board representative will be at CPNO on Monday. Please come and let her know how you feel about the options. Right now it is only the unknown to which we have to fear. However, we do know that our neighborhood finds itself on the edge of the districts that are under enrolled and overcrowded. We will begin to find out the alternatives that will be considered by the school board on December 1st. We may not be able to change the decision but we sure let APS know how feel about the options.
I implore you to come share your thoughts with Cecily Harsch-Kinnane at the CPNO meeting at the E Church (470 Candler Park Drive) on Monday November 21st. Ms. Harsch-Kinnane is at the top of the agenda. There is also a meeting at Parkside Elementary on December 1st at 6:30 PM. Our best chance at influencing these decisions is participation from every homeowner and parent in the neighborhood. We are a neighborhood that stopped the road and may very well need that level of participation again to influence the decisions at hand.
Please attend the meetings and make your voice known.