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25

Jun

CRCT 2013 - APS Math Scores Rise

This morning, the Georgia Department of Education (DOE) issued its first release of CRCT data from the 2013 testing cycle.  The data released today includes system-level scores, and the DOE states that school-level information will be made available on or before July 10.

According to a press release accompanying the data, scores were up across the state in most grades and content areas.

Since the difficulty of exams can vary year-to-year, I am typically less interested in the raw scores and more interested in how districts perform relative to each other.  My initial review of the data has some positive news for APS: scores for the system’s students rose relative to the rest of the state across all grades.  The greatest gains came in math, while english language arts (ELA) scores declined slightly.

Before jumping into the numbers, it is important to remember that averages give us a general sense of the direction districts are moving.  The don’t tell us much about the experiences of specific students or the performance of specific schools.  APS has historically had some schools ranked in the top 1% and others in the bottom 1%, a pattern which is likely to repeat when school-level information is released in the coming weeks.    

Lets start by looking at last year’s performance so that we have a good benchmark to compare to.  As shown in the chart below, APS students in Grades 3-8 ranked in the 19th percentile statewide last year.  This means that 19% of the state’s students attended school districts which scored lower than APS last year.  The remaining 81% of students in the state attended districts with average scores equal to or higher than APS.

2012 APS Percentile CRCT Scores

This year, APS saw modest gains across all grades, rising to the 23rd percentile.  While this performance is still well below average, the district is moving in a positive direction.  

Looking at some of the subject-level information, it is evident that the district’s most significant improvements came in Math, while ELA performance fell slightly, and other subjects rose slightly or remained flat.  

The percentile scores for each subject for the years 2012 and 2013 are included in the charts below.

2012:

2013:

20

May

Meeting With Supt. Erroll Davis

Last Wednesday, APS Superintendent Erroll Davis met with about 30 community members from around the city to discuss the FY2014 budget.

I thought that Davis did a good job of responding to the questions that were asked, and I appreciate him taking the time to sit down with community members.

A couple of the impressions that I left with were:

  • Davis feels that the district faces a lot of administrative challenges which take money to address, and he feels it is more important to direct money toward those initiatives than to keep class size low.
  • From Davis’s perspective, the central office and administrative spending are reasonable (or even favorable) compared to other urban districts.
  • From Davis’s perspective, a primary driver of administrative inefficiencies is having under-enrolled schools. 
  • There is a disconnect between the information the administration is relying on to make decisions (from the computer systems) and the practical experiences of those closer to the schools.
  • From Davis’s perspective, a slow pace of change/improvement is to be expected from a large organization, and he feels like they are moving in the right direction slowly.

I continue to think there are several ways that I see things differently from Supt. Davis, and I don’t think he is closer to coming around to my point of view or that information has been presented which would help bring me around to his point of view.  The things I continue to think are:

  • Even setting aside assistant principal classification, under-enrolled schools, and the pension liability issues which have been mentioned, the district spends significantly more money on the central office than other districts in the state, whether those districts have higher-needs students or lower-needs students.
  • Some of this is driven by inefficiencies in the hierarchy of the central administration.  A couple of examples include:
  • Karen Waldon’s department has its own budget team rather than relying on the finance department.
  • The reorganization of the curriculum and instruction department added lots of new positions.  Under Karen, there are 4 associate superintendents, 4 executive directors, and 4 coordinators, all of whom are highly compensated.  Yet, what I’ve heard from the experience of principals is that they feel C&I has become less responsive during Karen’s time at the helm.  I have heard reaching out to C&I described as sending messages into a black hole.  While this is certainly not reflective of all principal’s take, I have heard it now from multiple people in four different clusters.
  • The 4 leaders of the reform districts are highly paid (and most say they’re talented people), but they are not vested with authority, and therefore they do not contribute meaningfully.
  • While I agree that large organizations are hard to change, we can’t be resigned to slow improvements.  We may need to look closer at the possibility of moving faster to a decentralized model where clusters or quadrants of the city are responsible for decision making, and change can be implemented at a faster pace.
  • Even in the depths of a recession, we have significantly more money per student than other Georgia districts ever have in a booming economy.  It is challenging for me to reconcile that with a need for class sizes of 33.  It seems to me that if we were more strategic with our use of money and planned better, we could have smaller classes and still have funds left over to fund investments in the administration which Davis sees as needed.
  • The data Davis relies on to understand the finances of the organization is compiled with a lot of assumptions, which it seems to me make the numbers reflect something different than he (or any other user) would initially assume based on the summary descriptions of the expenses.
  • We have to plan holistically.  It is perfectly appropriate for certain funds to have restricted uses, but that shouldn’t be used as a reason for us not to plan ahead for how we will use those funds.  I’m not aware of any regulations which would prevent planning the use of Title I funds or other special funds.  I also don’t think the fact that discretion is provided to the principals should prevent this process from taking place.  The principals should be asked to work with the administration to put together a plan for next year as part of the budget cycle.

13

May

Learn about the Atlanta Public Schools budget!

28

Jan

An Afterward to White Flight: Atlanta’s Return to Community & Long Road Toward Integration

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, public spaces including busses, parks, pools, and schools once prized by Atlantans came to be regarded with distrust and fear after ten years of “forced integration.”  Rather than integrate, many whites chose to withdraw from public life and ultimately from the city altogether.  

Between 1960 and 1990, Atlanta’s white population fell from over 300,000 to just 122,000 residents concentrated primarily on the north side of the city.  Stung by the perceived betrayal of their communities and elected officials, those leaving Atlanta set out to build a new lifestyle in the suburbs, one constructed on an ethos of individuality and self-sufficiency.  Public transit gave way to the car and grid neighborhoods gave way to gated communities.

At the same time, thanks in no small part to its role in the civil rights movement and renowned cluster of Historically Black Colleges, Atlanta became known throughout the nation as Harlem’s counterpart, a Black Mecca of the South.  Between 1960 and 1980, Atlanta attracted upwardly mobile blacks from around the country, watching its black population swell from 186,000 to 283,000. 

In his acclaimed account of this period in the city’s history, White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism, Princeton University Professor Kevin M. Kruse chronicles the events leading to white flight and explores their cultural and political repercussions, painting a disturbingly vivid picture of 20th-century withdrawal from the city once “too busy to hate.”

As with any living history, Atlanta’s has continued beyond the scope of Mr. Kruse’s research, which left off in the 1970’s.  Over the past 20 years, Atlanta has seen the emergence of a new class of white professionals who initially chose to live in the city during their 20’s and are now also opting to raise families within the city limits.  Meanwhile, the suburbs have seen an influx of middle-class blacks, Hispanics, and Asians, making the once lily-white metro area home to one of the nation’s most integrated counties: Gwinnett. 

In important ways, these demographic shifts reflect not only geographical movements but also an evolving system of values as many of Atlanta’s professionals and elites choose an “intown” lifestyle and suburbanites opt for integration over ethnic isolation.

However, Easy Street would be an unlikely name for the road from the 1970’s to today’s Atlanta.  For a time, the city’s future looked bleak.

Crack, Lead, and Homicide

Following decades of slow and hard-fought progress, the Black Atlanta community, and more broadly Black America, was rocked in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s by an alarming rise in violent crime and homicide.  The U.S. murder rate among young black males aged 14 - 17 doubled from 1984 to 1994.  The murder rate for black males aged 18 - 24 spiked 30%. 

Fortunately, the crime wave was short lived.  By the mid 1990’s violent crime began a long decline which has now brought it near record lows in Atlanta and cities throughout the country. 

Scholars disagree on the factors responsible for the 1980s crime surge, but compelling cases have been made for blaming two substances: lead & crack cocaine.

In his 2000 article published by Environmental Research, economist Rick Nevin claims that 90% of the variation in America’s violent crime over the past fifty years can be explained by childhood exposure to lead (once common in gasoline and paint).  With blacks more likely to live in dense neighborhoods closest to interstates and central business districts, gasoline-based lead exposure may explain a significant portion of the crime-wave experienced in the black community.

Another commonly-cited culprit is crack cocaine.  In the world of recreational drugs, the development of crack cocaine was a technological breakthrough of sorts, democratizing cocaine consumption by enabling dealers to sell small, $10 “rocks” which delivered an intense, short-lived high.  Strong demand for the drug and ensuing turf wars over the right to meet that demand are cited as potential causes of the crime wave.

According to research by Harvard economist Royland G. Fryer, Jr., Atlanta (along with Newark and San Francisco) was one of the three U.S. cities most dramatically affected by the crack epidemic.  

The impact of crack and/or lead exposure on Atlanta’s residents can best be seen through a review of historical crime rates.  In 1985, just prior to the crack outburst, Atlanta’s murder rate stood at 37 people per 100,000.  It peaked in 1990 at almost double that rate—65 people per 100,000.  By 2011, the rate fell to 20, approximately 70% below peak levels.

Unsurprisingly, many of the children (mostly black) raised in Atlanta during this period of upheaval became disillusioned with city life, and when it came time to establish their own families, they began to look beyond the city’s borders.

Suburban Integration

The city’s black population peaked in the 1980s, and since that time a stream of middle-class black residents have left the city, seeking the suburban promises of safety and high-quality schools.  Though the movement began 20 years earlier, this trend continued into the 2000’s.  As measured by children under five, relocation of the region’s youngest black families in the past decade shows a continued preference for the suburbs.

Map 1

At rates of 68% and 108%, respectively, North Fulton and Gwinnett registered the highest growth of black children under five. At the same time, Atlanta saw its population of black children shrink by 19%.

Professor Kruse’s research in White Flight thoroughly illustrates how black Atlantans’ initial efforts at integration were met with swift white withdrawal, street by street in the 1950’s.  Atlanta may not have gotten integration right on the first attempt, but the latest black migrants, particularly those choosing Gwinnett, have encountered a different response: many of the whites stuck around.  Meanwhile, significant Asian and Hispanic communities have migrated to the metro area.

Thanks no doubt to the attraction of its lauded school system, Gwinnett County can proudly boast an integration index of 0.59, one of the highest levels for any county throughout the entire nation.  The integration index reflects the probability that two residents of the same census tract, selected at random, will be of different races.  When two Gwinnett residents of the same census tract are selected, there is a 59% chance that the second resident will be of a different race than the first.

Many U.S. counties have diversity rivaling Gwinnett, but often that county-level diversity is built on a collection of more segregated communities.  For example, Kings County (i.e. Brooklyn, New York) is extremely diverse with no race making up more than 44% of the population; however, Brooklyn is not as integrated as Gwinnett.   Instead, many central Brooklyn neighborhoods (e.g. East Flatbush, Bedford-Stuyvesant) are overwhelmingly black while neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Park Slope are overwhelmingly white.  Kings County’s integration index stands at 0.42.

When compared to other Sun Belt metro areas, Gwinnett’s integration index stands tallest.  Metro Charlotte’s most integrated county is Mecklenburg (0.46), metro Dallas’s most integrated county is Dallas County (0.53), and metro Houston’s most integrated county is Fort Bend (0.56).

As some Black families have chosen to settle in the suburbs, many white families are now taking a second look at life inside the city, bringing increased diversity to several intown neighborhoods once exclusively black.

Reversal of White Flight

With the proliferation of European study-abroad programs, increasing travel, liberalizing social norms, and a slew of cultural touchstones (American Beauty, Desperate Housewives, Weeds) which poke fun at the perceived uniformity/emptiness of suburban life, white college graduates have flocked to American cities.  In most large cities, downtown areas saw double-digit population growth rates from 2000 to 2010.  But in much of the country, the peak of urban life occurs sometime around age 27 with couples then heading to the suburbs to raise families. 

While other cities contemplate whether the most recent influx of young professionals will tread this familiar path, Atlanta already has its answer, evidence of which is best reflected in the city’s white baby boom.  As metro counties regi­­stered slight declines in the number of white children under five (partly driven by falling birth rates during the Great Recession), Atlanta and intown Dekalb have undergone a period of exponential growth.

image

Over the past 10 years, the number of white children under five living in Atlanta grew by an astounding 51%.  A cluster of four southeast Atlanta neighborhoods (East Atlanta, East Lake, Edgewood, and Kirkwood) has been most dramatically impacted.  In 2000, these neighborhoods were home to a combined total of just 94 white children.  By 2010, that number had grown by over 500% to 592. 

Providing evidence that those now choosing to raise families in the city do so by choice, the white families settling in Atlanta are disproportionately affluent.  More than 16% of Atlanta’s white households earn at least $200,000, nearly twice the rate of the metro-area’s white households.

Should a return to raising families in the city eventually gain traction around the nation, Atlanta will find itself at the forefront of the movement.  Fellow Sun Belt cities – Charlotte, Dallas, and Houston – have all seen young professionals move into new, high-rise condos in the city core.  However, none of these cities have seen this renewed urban interest transition to family life on a scale similar to Atlanta.  Instead, white families in these cities continue to show a greater preference for settling further from the city core.

While it is true that some of the city’s blacks have relocated to the suburbs and demographic data make the story of Atlanta’s intown rebirth easiest to demonstrate by changes in the white population, the movement should not be misunderstood as exclusively white.  Many of the whites now settling intown claim diversity as a paramount value, and they have certainly been joined by Hispanic, Asian, black, and multiracial families. 

Atlanta is also now home to several minority entrepreneurs whose ventures reflect intown values, even if a lack of hair pulling means the lives of these successful businesswomen are unlikely to be featured on Bravo or TLC.  Prominent examples include Marché Sparks (Le Petit Marché), Asha Gomez (Cardamom Hill) and Alison Cross (Boxcar Grocer).

A Return to Community

If Atlanta’s white flight, as suggested by Kruse, reflected disillusionment with local government and a withdrawal from public space, the City’s intown revival in many ways reflects a return to community.  This shift is evidenced by evolving attitudes towards transit and growing public engagement.  

The largest public works project currently being undertaken in metro Atlanta is the Beltline, a 22-mile loop of trails, parks and trains encircling the city’s core and connecting to the existing MARTA rail network.  Last fall, the Beltline’s Eastside Trail delivery was met with immediate, enthusiastic adoption.  On weekends, visitors to the trail will find hundreds of neighbors jogging, walking their dogs, or biking with their children. 

An effort last year to speed implementation of the Beltline (and a multitude of other transportation projects) through a one-percent sales tax failed as the metro’s suburban voters voiced their continuing opposition to public transit and a distrust of government.  The vote provided a stark snapshot of the cultural gulf that has developed between suburban and intown values.  Virtually all suburban precincts voted strongly against the measure, but the tax won overwhelming, broad support from the city of Atlanta’s gentrified neighborhoods.  No neighborhood was more supportive than intown standard-bearer Inman Park, where 83% of voters approved the tax.

In addition to a willingness to invest in public projects, intown residents have become increasingly engaged in a dialogue around what direction their neighborhoods should take, showing a sense of community ownership and demanding developments consistent with neighborhood values. 

In 2012, developer Jeff Fuqua proposed two suburban-style shopping projects which both featured large surface parking lots and big-box retail in excess of 100,000 square feet. 

The first proposal was located near the Lindburg MARTA station, but Fuqua refused to incorporate the Neighborhood Planning Unit’s request that his team rework the project to be consistent with the area’s transit-oriented development plan.  When the developer didn’t budge, NPU-B chair Sally Silver initiated an extensive email and phone campaign whereby residents ultimately convinced city council members to block the project.

Fuqua’s second proposal was located in Grant Park, directly adjacent to the Beltline.  Ignoring the Beltline’s already-adopted guidelines for the parcel’s development as a mixed-use grid, Fuqua again proposed a big-box development with a large surface parking lot.  In response, hundreds of neighbors signed a petition against the proposal and held a protest at the site.  It remains to be seen whether city officials will uphold the neighborhood’s wishes and require a project in keeping with the Beltline’s master plan. 

While anti-urbanist projects have been met with vocal opposition, intown communities have enthusiastically supported projects that share neighborhood values.  Jamestown Properties’ Ponce City Market has drummed up growing buzz through site tours and parties at the former Sears building currently being redeveloped into a collection of offices, apartments, restaurants, and retail.

Beyond development and transit projects, intown families have also sparked innovation and renewed interest in one of the city’s most essential services: public education.

Turnaround in Public Education

It turns out the oft-repeated notion that prison planners use third grade test scores to determine how many prisons need to be built is an urban myth; however, the connection between subpar education and crime has been demonstrated thoroughly.

Unfortunately, Atlanta has a long history of falling short on K-12 education.  As recently as 2004, only 15% of the four-year-olds who stepped into an Atlanta Public Schools kindergarten classroom entered a high-quality school.  These kindergarteners have now entered 7th grade, and many continue to struggle with the challenges presented by starting their education on the wrong foot.

Since the time those children enrolled in kindergarten, the city has seen a remarkable community investment in struggling traditional public schools (e.g. Toomer Elementary), growth in the number of charter schools, and an improvement of existing charter schools’ quality.  As a result, 33% of kindergarteners entering Atlanta Public Schools for the 2012 year began their education in a high-quality school, a significant improvement in just 8 years.

Looking forward two years, that number is likely to reach 45% as one of the city’s most successful charter networks (KIPP) adds two more primary programs and at least two traditional schools on upward trajectories (Burgess-Peterson & Parkside) jump the hurdle from slightly below the state average performance to above.

It will take several years for these developments at the elementary level to trickle through to higher graduation rates, higher test scores, lower teenage pregnancy, and lower crime, but those are the outcomes Atlanta can expect.  Once this future is realized, a great deal of the credit should go to charter leaders like David Jernigan and the intown communities who have taken ownership of their schools.  

Atlanta’s Path Forward

Reflection on the road Atlanta has traveled, the progress our region has made toward integration, and trends currently underway offers Atlanta’s leaders food for thought as they consider the path our city takes over the next 30 years.

For Mayor Reed and the City Council: Recognizing that a distaste for short-sighted suburban development is one of the factors contributing to a renewed interest in intown life, how can the city ensure that neighbors are equipped with the tools to hold developers responsible for building projects appropriate for their communities long term? How can the city address its infrastructure backlog and speed implementation of popular projects like the Beltline?  

For Superintendent Davis and the Atlanta Board of Education: How can the Atlanta Public Schools leverage the influx of civically minded residents to move more Atlanta schools from subpar to great?  How can Atlanta articulate a vision for its charters, building on the successes of programs like KIPP and extending a high-quality education to 100% of the city’s children? 

As we look back on our city 30 years from now, we will undoubtedly have moved forward.  The nature and extent of that progress is up to us.

11

Dec

Charter Founder Profits; Students Struggle

From its headquarters one block south of Wall Street, Mosaica Education claims to operate with a simple mission: “To empower students to learn and achieve – every child, every day.”

Gene EidelmanThis for-profit charter management company was founded in 1997 by Sandy Springs resident Gene Eidelman and has since expanded to a network of 90 schools, generating more than $125M in annual revenue.  For several years, Inc. Magazine has ranked Mosaica as one of the fastest growing companies in urban America.[i] 

Unfortunately, students attending schools managed by Mosaica have not seen their educational trajectories rise with the management company’s revenue.  Instead, Mosaica’s students around the country consistently underperform their peers.

Mirroring the organization’s national record, Mosiaca’s local charter school, Atlanta Preparatory Academy (APA), is one of Georgia’s worst performing schools on annual exams, with students in all grades scoring in the bottom 20% statewide. 

The school is currently up for charter renewal and has requested that the Atlanta Board of Education grant it a five-year charter extension.

During the December 2012 school board meeting, Mr. Allen Mueller, Executive Director of Innovation for Atlanta Public Schools (APS), recommended that the Board of Education decline to renew APA’s charter, citing low academic achievement and concerns about the school’s financial independence from Mosaica.  District 1 Board of Education representative, Ms. Brenda Muhammad, quickly rebuffed this recommendation and advocated extending the school’s charter for an additional five years.  The Board ultimately voted to delay any decisions until its January 2013 meeting.

A review of Mosaica and APA’s history, academic performance, and financial management raises serious questions about the prudence of granting the charter school an extension.

A Brief History of Scandal

During Mosaica’s short tenure on the national stage, it has found itself immersed in a series of scandals across the country. 

The Lafayette Academy Charter School opened in the fall of 2006, paying Mosaica $773,000 for the first year of a five-year management contract.  Less than 10 days into the school year, the charter’s governing board started “noticing problems.”  In a lawsuit filed against Mosaica, the governing board alleged that the management company failed to align its curriculum to Louisiana standards, failed to establish an after-school program for struggling students, and failed to properly organize transportation to and from the school.  On September 14, 2007, an arbitrator awarded the governing board a $350,000 judgment against Mosaica and upheld the school’s termination of its management agreement.

Two years later, Mosaica’s Howard Road Academy in D.C. was embroiled in a cheating scandal when a student announced to her exam proctor that she knew all the answers to the DC-CAS standardized test because she had been given the test to practice the day before.  The Washington Post later reported that Mosaica administrators distributed tests prior to exam day for “extra practice.”    

In April 2012, Mosaica’s STEAM Academy of Winston-Salem, North Carolina faced revocation of its charter for financial problems and low academic performance.  Just before annual exams were to be administered, The Winston-Salem Journal reported that Mosaica hired Susan Willis to run the school.  Prior to landing this job, Ms. Willis was fired by her previous employer when an investigation found that she conspired to boost test scores as the principal of William Flemming High School in Roanoke, Virginia.  Mosaica claimed to be “aware of a testing irregularity,” when hiring Ms. Willis, but “didn’t think it was anything significant.”

Last month, four of Mosaica’s Atlanta students were injured when a classmate mixed dry ice, vinegar and water together in a bottle.  One student was burned.  Another was hit in the head with the exploding bottle, and another got chemicals on his face.  The injuries occurred when a substitute teacher “wasn’t looking.”

Just last week, the Detroit News reported that Mosaica’s newest school in Muskegon Heights, Michigan has struggled to maintain a stable staff during its first year of operations.  The principal quit before classes started, and just three months into the school year, 25% of the teachers have also left the school.  A student described his experience as follows: “It’s confusing because I go from this learning process to this learning process to that learning process and it’s just ridiculous how some teachers leave and we have to start all over and learn something new…It’s just, it’s crazy.” 

The Mosaica Growth Model

The nation’s most admired charter networks (e.g. KIPP, Uncommon Schools, Achievement First, Success Academies, etc.) have all followed a familiar pattern of expansion.  First, they started with a single school in a single city, worked to perfect that school, and then replicated the successful model.  As they expand, the networks strive to ensure their new schools consistently implement the approaches which proved successful in their flagship location.

Unlike these organizations, high standards do not seem to be a priority at Mosaica.  Perhaps the thing most consistent about Mosaica’s schools is their failure.

A comprehensive analysis conducted by Arizona State University lists the first 36 schools founded by Mosaica since it began operating in 1997.  Twenty seven of those schools have since been shut down by local authorizers or have extricated themselves from Mosaica’s management.

Of the nine which survived, eight can be classified as categorical failures.  They have consistently scraped along the bottom of the barrel in their states as measured by performance on annual exams.  Here are those schools’ most recent statewide percentile rankings on exams as compiled by SchoolDigger:

  • Arts and Technology Academy of Pontiac (MI) – 10th Percentile
  • Bay County Public School Academy (MI) – 15th Percentile
  • Columbus Arts & Technology Academy (OH) – 11th Percentile
  • Columbus Humanities Arts and Technology Academy (OH) – 8th Percentile
  • Grand Blanc Academy (MI) – 16th Percentile
  • Howard Road Academy (DC) – 14th Percentile
  • Phoenix Advantage Charter School (AZ) – 34th Percentile

The only possible beacon of success among Mosaica’s first 36 education attempts is the Columbus Preparatory Academy.  Founded in 2004, until recently, the school has struggled, its test scores falling in the 6th percentile in 2008.  After the Columbus Dispatch ran a story including the school on a list of charters facing closure, the Columbus Preparatory Academy saw its performance undergo a meteoric rise to the 81st percentile on the state’s 2011 tests. 

Even if this single-year increase is an accurate reflection of lasting student growth at Columbus Prepartory Academy, Mosaica has demonstrated no capacity to duplicate the success elsewhere.  Instead, the organization seems willing to accept a certain level of school closures, focusing instead on a strategy of opening new schools.  During the time the network watched 27 of its first 36 schools close, it was able to open more than 75 new schools.  As long as Mosaica opens more schools than it sees closed each year, its revenue can continue to grow.

By the time local or state authorities step in to shut schools down, Mosaica has already earned several years of profits and can move on to the next opportunity.

Founding of Atlanta Preparatory Academy

In December 2006, Mosaica’s President Gene Eidelman filed a charter petition to open the Atlanta Preparatory Academy (APA).  The charter application indicates that non-profit APA intended to contract with for-profit Mosaica to provide all services. 

Unlike Grant Park’s community-based Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School, APA was not founded by a group of local parents seeking better options for their kids.  Instead, Gene Eidelman was joined by a team of three outsiders, none of whom live in the community where APA planned to operate its school and none of whom send children to the school.  The charter lists its inaugural board as follows:

  1. Gene Eidelman – President
  2. Neil Shorthouse
  3. Ann Davis Jones
  4. Falomi Prescott-Adams

The application acknowledged a conflict of interest as APA’s President was also the founder, owner, and President of Mosaica.

Undeterred by this conflict, the APS Board of Education approved the application, paving the way for APA to open in the fall of 2008.  The school was not prepared to receive students in 2008 and ultimately delayed its start to August 2009.

Since the Board of Education approved the school’s charter five years ago, APA has been a revolving door for board members who join then leave the organization.  Founders Ann Davis Jones and Falomi Prescott-Adams have both severed ties to APA.  According to filings with the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, each of the past four years the school has had a different Chief Financial Officer (CFO).  None of the individuals who have served as CFO appear to have earned a degree in finance or accounting.

  • 2009 CFO Gene Eidelman did not graduate from college.
  • 2010 CFO Neil Shorthouse earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Pittsburgh.
  • 2011 CFO Colin Colvin’s background is unclear
  • 2012 CFO Dekisha Drayton is an MD who studied Biology as an undergraduate.

This instability and lack of financial experience stands in stark contrast to the consistent financial leadership seen at Atlanta’s successful charters.  One of the city’s most highly regarded charters is the Charles R. Drew Charter School.  Its CFO, Brian P. Williams, has served in that role for at least six years.  He also has a financial background and worked for 10 years as a CPA with PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

Academic Achievement

Much like Mosaica’s other schools, APA’s students rank among the bottom of the pack on Georgia exams.  For the 2012 CRCT, the school didn’t see students in any grade exceed the 20th percentile statewide.  In three of five grades, students ranked in the 10th percentile or lower.

Importantly, the school’s highest performing students are 7th graders who received their K-4 educations elsewhere, prior to APA opening.

 image

Only one APS-approved charter school has seen its students achieve at low levels similar to APA—The Intown Academy.  Each of the district’s other charter schools see students perform at much higher levels.  Below are the 2012 average percentiles for all grades served by Atlanta’s charter schools.

image

APA’s sub-par performance is even more disappointing when one considers that, with a low-income percentage of 61%, fewer of its students may face the challenges faced by students in most other APS charters.

In addition to raw performance, APS also tracks “value-added” metrics which measure year-over-year growth in CRCT scores on a student-by-student basis.  By this measure, APA’s elementary students only achieved 6.9 months of learning during a full school year while middle school students achieved 7.9 months of learning.  Both tallies are among the lowest in the district.

In every year since the charter began operating, APA failed to meet the Adequate Yearly Progress metrics established under the No Child Left Behind act.

In addition to the charter’s dismal academic achievement, a review of APA’s financial statements raises questions about whether the school has been a good steward of public resources. 

Instructional Outlays

The Management Agreement between APA and Mosaica calls for a fee of 12.5% of per-pupil revenue received by the school, which in 2012 amounted to $577,716.  It goes on to say that this fee “will not preclude the payment of additional consideration,” paving the way for Mosaica to charge more for any services not covered under the Management Agreement.

Only 36.2% of APA’s revenue for the year ended June 30, 2012 actually went toward instruction.  This was the lowest percentage of expenses allocated to instruction among all of Atlanta’s charter schools.[ii]  The percentages for other schools are presented below.

  • Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School – 82%
  • KIPP (Combined)[iii] – 75%
  • The Kindezi School – 62%
  • Charles R. Drew Charter School – 61%
  • Wesley International Academy – 52%
  • The Intown Academy – 48%

The school’s remaining $2.6M of public funds was spent in a variety of other ways.  Below are some of the broad categories and amounts reported in the school’s financials:

  • “Maintenance and Operation of Plant Services” - $850,623
  • “Management Fees” - $577,716[iv]
  • “Improvement of Instructional Services” - $376,781
  • “School Administration” - $268,947
  • “General Administration” - $165,539
  • “Support Services - Business” - $146,358
  • “Other Outlays” – $166,459

The lack of detail provided makes it difficult to determine the total amount paid to Mosaica.  For example, Mosaica may have provided what is classified as “Improvement of Instructional Services.”  If these services were determined to fall outside the management agreement, the $376,781 would have been paid to Mosaica on top of its $577,716 management fee.  The same goes for other expense categories.

Real Estate Purchase

As noted in its charter application, Gene Eidelman identified a potential site for the school prior to founding APA.  On July 18, 2008, APA purchased that site, a tract of land on Fairburn Road, just outside the 285 perimeter. 

The tax assessor’s office indicates that the land was purchased from Sterling Trust Company for $475,000.  Prior to this $475,000 transaction, the 3.12-acre parcel was last sold in 2000, when Sterling Trust Company acquired it for $82,779.[v]  

According to APA’s 2012 Audited Financial Statements, $200,000 of the purchase price was financed by the seller while the remaining amount was financed by a Denver-based financial firm, Tatonka Capital.  In addition, Tatonka provided $275,000 to cover “engineering, loan fees, legal fees, permit costs, and prorated items.”

Approximately one year after the purchase, Tatonka Capital assigned the financing note to Mosaica, and the management company has continued to collect interest from APA for the loan. APA’s 2012 Financial Statements indicate that this loan was secured by the property and accumulated interest at a variable rate which is currently 7.25%.[vi]  Annual interest on a $550,000 loan at 7.25% totals approximately $40,000.

No building was ever constructed at the site, and it has continued to sit vacant for the past four years. Estimated expenditures to date on the Fairburn property are included in the table below:

image

To date, APA has spent close to one million dollars of public money on a site which in no way contributed to education.

Lease Agreement

As loans financing the Fairburn property continue to accumulate interest, APA operates in a facility located at 569 Martin Luther King Junior Drive in west Atlanta.  The facility, known as Jordan Hall, was once part of the Morris Brown College campus.  In 2009, Morris Brown lost the facility to foreclosure in the wake of an embezzlement scandal that led to a loss of accreditation and long-lasting financial troubles for the college.

The purchaser of Jordan Hall, GTAS Properties LLC, paid $900,000 for the facility on March 3, 2009.  Less than three months later, APA entered an agreement to rent the facility.  According to APA’s 2012 Audited Financial Statements, the school paid $402,870 in rent for the year ended June 30, 2012.  This annual lease rate represents approximately 45% of the building’s most recent sales value.  The school enrolled 441 students during the 2011-2012 school year, resulting in a per pupil lease expense of $914.

It is not uncommon for charter schools operating in the APS system to lease facilities; however, many lease their facilities directly from the school system, which makes excess space available rent-free to locally approved charter schools.  The following APS charter schools have accepted these rent-free facilities.

  • Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School
  • KIPP Vision
  • KIPP Atlanta Collegiate
  • KIPP WAYS
  • The Kindezi School
  • The Intown Academy

The Charles R. Drew Charter School operates in facilities owned by the East Lake Foundation, and its financial statements do not indicate that any lease payments were made for the use of the facilities.  

In response to a request for information, the APS Department of Innovation, which oversees charter schools and their use of excess space in district buildings, indicated that buildings have been available each of the past five years including a recent opening at the Herndon facility near Jordan Hall; no one from APA has contacted the Department of Innovation to express interest in leasing free facilities.

Unresponsive Board

I have attempted to contact several past and present APA board members.  However, none have responded to my request for a meeting to discuss the school’s financial management, relationship with Mosaica, and academic performance. 

I have also called and emailed Board of Education representative Brenda Muhammad to inquire about her advocacy that APA be granted a renewal of its charter.  She has not responded.

Decision on Pending Charter Extension Application

During its January 2013 meeting, the Atlanta Board of Education will vote whether or not to approve APA’s application for charter renewal.  Under its current charter term, APA has delivered consistently subpar education to its students while squandering financial resources.  The school’s students and Atlanta’s taxpayers deserve better.  It is time for the Atlanta Board of Education to follow the lead of authorizers around the nation by turning off the citizen-funded cash spigot to Gene Eidelman and his Mosaica enterprise.


[ii] It is important to keep in mind that the financial statements prepared by charter schools are significantly less detailed than those prepared by districts such as the Atlanta Public Schools.  While districts, must lay out detailed accounts down to the number and type of employees in each department, charters are free to report more limited information.  As such, most charters report broad categories such as “instructional expense” which should include primarily teacher salaries, but may also include other expenses.  In addition expenses are not classified uniformly across charter schools, which may make some comparisons between schools unreliable.

[iii] Rather than listing “Instructional” expenses as a single line item, KIPP provides a detailed breakdown.  For this calculation the following expenses have been considered: “Payroll,” “Payroll Taxes and Benefits,” and “Direct Student Expenses.”

[iv] This amount is reported in Note 7 to the financial statements; however, it does not appear on the income statement, so it may comprise portions of some of the other items listed

[v] Sterling Trust Company is a financial services firm offering self-directed IRA’s.  Therefore, ownership of the Fairburn property was likely on behalf of one of its IRA clients.  The identity of the seller is unclear.

[vi] The contract stipulates prime plus 4.00%.  The Wall Street Journal prime rate is 3.25%.

18

Oct

mjbryan asked: Where did you find the percentile scores for schools' CRCT results?

The scores by grade are published by the GA DOE here.  In order to calculate the percentile, I used the mean scores for each subject for grades 3 through 5.  For schools which did not serve all three grades, I used the mean for the grades served.

23

Sep

csen asked: I just found your "Three Atlanta Schools to Watch" post. Where can one find demographic data by school/grade?

The best place I know of is on the Georgia Department of Education website.  In my article, the data came from the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement.  Here’s the link to the Georgia DOE source:  http://www.doe.k12.ga.us/Technology-Services/Data-Collections/Pages/Home.aspx

03

Aug

First Look at 2012 APS Elementary Performance

A few weeks ago, the Georgia Department of Education released summary 2012 CRCT scores by school.   Using the 2011 data, I created a ranking of Metro Atlanta’s Elementary Schools which considered student needs in addition to test performance.  When more detailed demographic information becomes available for 2012, I will update that list.

In the meantime, there were seven APS schools which ranked in the top 10% statewide on mean scale scores (ignoring student needs).  Here they are:

11

Jul

De Facto Segregation and the Neighborhood Charter School (now ANCS)

If you have heard of charter schools, you have probably heard an explanation along these lines:

Charter schools are publicly funded, privately operated schools which are open to all public school students who apply. 

Read More

10

Jul

Is Diversity a Concern at Drew Charter School?

Supporters of the Drew Charter School received positive news last night.  Their request to expand the school, adding 1,000 additional students over the next several years was approved by the Atlanta Board of Education.  The additional seats include 400 at the elementary and middle school levels and 600 at the high school level.

Prior to the decision, some interesting comments were made by APS Superintendent, Erroll B. Davis.  Mr Davis, who originally opposed the school’s expansion, said that the school had not been aggressive enough recruiting locally, and therefore, its students had become more affluent.  Specifically, he said that he was concerned that if the school was going to break the cycle of poverty, impoverished students need to be in the school.

Read More