The Atlanta Journal Constitution published three opinion pieces today and the authors include Atlanta Public School Superintendent Meria Carstarphen, business consultant and former Board of Education candidate Ed Johnson and AJC Get Schooled blog author Maureen Downey. All three are a must read in their entirety as APS is about to start a new school year this coming Monday, August 4th.
The reality that Atlanta Public Schools still requires meaningful improvement has been quite obvious for a long while.
Clearly, APS’ improvement by “urban school reform” ideology failed, horribly so, predictably so. The failure ultimately showed up as a culture of cheating. APS today is as much two systems in one – one white, one black, with black lagging – as it was in 1999, when Beverly Hall became superintendent.
But to focus on APS’ failure to improve is to focus on what is not working for APS. It is more useful to focus on what will work. And to focus on what will work for APS is to first settle the one essential question: What is APS’ purpose?
Necessarily, APS’ purpose must be native to APS rather than be adopted from interests outside APS. Only APS’ own purpose can take account of local human, cultural, social, and economic variety. Then, the need to improve APS can be offered as transforming APS to realize its purpose tomorrow better than it did today.
To improve APS with purpose in mind also requires knowing about kinds of transformation, whether transformation of place, time, form, or state.
Arguably, pressures to transform APS in terms of place, time, and form invariably originate with external interests as their behaviorist designs to fix APS from the outside in. By acquiescing, APS allows its purpose to be, by default, the collection of status quo-keeping purposes of the external interests.
However, only transformation of state brings to Dr. Carstarphen the servant leadership challenge to provide for APS to continually experience meaningful improvement from the inside out, with purpose in mind.
After all, genuine education happens from the inside out, never from the outside in.
Johnson’s prescription of working from the “inside out” dovetails nicely with Carstarphen’s “move from focusing on what’s wrong to what’s strong”. Both approaches strive to find strengths within the system and then to build on this core to create an environment focused on improving real and sustained educational outcomes.