How to improve high schools

Atlanta school leaders are spending more than $65 million to transform all its high schools. The system is breaking the large high schools into smaller all-encompassing programs with different academic themes.

The district says graduation rates will improve if students receive personal and challenging experiences that are offered by smaller high schools.

Atlanta is succeeding with Carver, but it will take a few more years to see how it is played out elsewhere in the district.

School leaders in Georgia and across the nation have struggled with how to improve high schools. Many agree changes are needed to decrease dropout rates and increase test scores.

They’re changing the size of these schools. They’re changing the curriculum. They’re changing the teaching methods and styles.

Will this work? What should be done to improve our high schools?

29 comments Add your comment


May 11th, 2009
9:53 am

Huh? Atlanta is succeeding with Carver? Are you kidding me?

Four out of the five “smaller” Carver High Schools gets a 4 rating out of 10 by The rating is an overall rating based primarily on academics. This is success?

Just looking at one of the “small” Carver schools – the school of technology….. they scored below GA State average on the GHSGT in science, math, and English. This is success? The other “small” schools didn’t do any better!

Before declaring any type of success, maybe the data needs to be evaluated and the PR needs to be ignored.

Just because a school goes from a 1 out of 10 to a 4 out of 10 does NOT mean that it is successful. It only means that it is the best of the worst. It does not mean that it has any “best practices” at all.

V for Vendetta

May 11th, 2009
11:07 am

Funny. Nowhere did it mention that they’d be cracking down on discipline. Long story short, that means nothing will really change.


May 11th, 2009
11:12 am

Reality — check your math. There are 4 programs at Carter, not 5. Read the linked article even.

Sure, maybe test scores for all students aren’t amazing or top of the chart, but the change to the smaller programs was intended to improve graduation rates within the school. Apparently that is what the program has done. Sounds like they succeeded at their stated goal to me.

If more of the students are staying and completing high school, their academic scores are probably higher than if they dropped out, eventually the scores will rise higher. No school system has figured out the magic pixie dust formula that automatically promises academically brilliant students by just sprinkling them with some special ingredients and making them drink the special potion. We need to start somewhere and this is one place to start.

I do agree with the complaint from Grady High School that some schools would prefer not to change. If school choice is so important, we might as well leave some high schools in a more traditional large school style. If the important change is the extra teacher training and connection to the students (as mentioned in the article), then these same training methods and scheduling changes could be implemented in a large high school rather than only in smaller focus based high schools.

Good luck to the school system. They’re willing to put some major money on the line to make some changes happen. I hope the results are as desired.


May 11th, 2009
11:24 am

We are so pennywise and pound foolish! In the name of “saving taxpayer money” we cram as many kids into a building (andmore) than is possible and then are surprised when, instead of feeling like members of an academic community, they turn to pregnancy, drugs, gangs, dropping out, truancy, etc to feel like they are “something.” Guess what–then the taxpayers pick up the tab for that mess.

Valid national research shows that school size is an important predictor of academic success, especially for at risk students, rural or urban. When will we wise up?

Secondly, don’t send kids to middle or high school who can’t read and do basic math. In fact, don’t send them to the next grade in elementary school!

Provide alternatives to college bound studies for kids who are obviously NOT college bound. Give them a skill other than stealing or dealing drugs or making babies.

Third, demand high behavior standards. Provide boot camps for those who are unable or unwilling to conform. We all have to conform to other’s expectations all the time, from driving a car to working a job. Heck, kids should be taught to grant authority from toddlerhood on!

Harper's Mama

May 11th, 2009
11:38 am

I agree that teachers’ attitudes and passion for education have a lot to do with student achievement. However, I also stand firm on the belief that students must be held accountable for their behavior. It is key to the learning process. If students are in situations where behavior is unacceptable, they are not able to learn.
As schools, we must have specific behavioral consequences and stick to them, so that kids will know where they stand.

jim d

May 11th, 2009
1:15 pm

now there’s a novel concept thats sure to work.

“Throw mo money at it”

Public School Parent

May 11th, 2009
1:37 pm

How to improve metro high schools? I pretty much agree with CatLady. Here are some ideas:

1) Get rid of the block schedules.
2) Remediate early in 5th-8th grade and stop the use of social promotion. It doesn’t help the student in any way.
3) Agree 100% that as a society we should offer high quality and timely vocational programs to students that are not college bound. In fact, sending students who are ill prepared to college has hurt our public university systems and wasted tons of taxpayer money. And when I say high quality, I mean technology, health sciences, high paying skilled professions (i.e., not cosmetology);
4) Swift, effective and consistent discipline for behavior issues.


May 11th, 2009
1:42 pm

I hate to say it, but some kids should not be in school. They should be put to manual labor.


May 11th, 2009
1:50 pm

ACCOUNTABILITY! Why has this become such a bad thing? I am hearing over and over that if my students do poorly, that it’s my fault or if they pass my class, but fail the CRCT that I’m inflating grades. I’m in a no win situation. Once again I had an argument with my admin about giving kids repeated chances to pass summative assignments until they get a passing grade. I ask the same question, “How is that showing mastery?” and they give me the same rhetoric. There is no accountability put on the student! Forget about making high schools better for a minute and lets make all schools better by having accountability that really makes a difference.


May 11th, 2009
1:58 pm

You can’t improve schools without improving the students. Stop letting brats get away with everything and passing students who don’t do the work. It seems schools are so concerned about hurting kids feelings that they end up hurting everyone’s education instead. When I was in school, they separated us by ability, which makes sense. Let the students who can excel do so and the ones who need extra help can get it without slowing down the rest of the class. Nowadays, they want to blend everyone together so kids don’t feel left out. They’ll get over it, but they won’t get over a crappy education.


May 11th, 2009
2:10 pm

Lori, I agree. I am more upset that the high achievers and good students get left out because of the “let’s bring up all the rest” mentality. What about the kids that burst their butts in school? Why should they be in a class with students that barely work and take up space? Where are the rights of these students?


May 11th, 2009
2:13 pm

Lori, I couldn’t agree more. My school is letting any student get into an advanced class simply if they want to. No criteria what so ever. How’s that for bringing everybody down.


May 11th, 2009
3:36 pm

lyncoln: According to what I can find, “Carver High School” in APS consists of….

Early College High School at Carver
School of Technology at Carver
The School of the Arts at Carver
School of Health Services and Research at Carver
Senior Acadamy of Carver

According to the math that I was taught, that totals 5. And, only one has a score of better than 4 out of 10 in terms of academic quality per

A major problem with that approach is cost. While one Carver HS has one principal and one set of APs, 5 small Carvers have 5 principals and 5 sets of APs – talk about waste of money!

Also, I very much doubt the impact of school size and academic results for high school. Yes, the research is there for school size and elementary student results. But the research for high school is for class size and not school size. As evidence, look at the mega schools in North Fulton (for example Alpharetta, North Springs, Centennial) and the even larger ones in Gwinnett (for example Brookwood, Parkwood). They are all very successful academically.

Breaking apart all APS high schools into small ones really makes no sense to me. It will not change the fact that parental involvement is minimal, and the students have no motivation and see no value in education.

Change in APS will have to start in the home. Throwing money at the schools won’t do it. If APS wants to tackle the problem, they need to work with the social services. They need to teach parenting classes. Those are the types of things that will make a real difference.


May 11th, 2009
4:30 pm

I’ve taught high school on a A/B 90 min period block for 10 years. I think it is great. There are many block scheduling models and of course Georgia schools choice the worse model by far. How can you expect students to learn a year’s worth of work in a semester? Where is the time for remidiation and review?

As far improving high school, I think students should test in to high school. Or have everyone go to high school for 9th and 10th grade then choose a themed school. A version of a liberal arts college. Every one gets the basics for two years, then move to a specialized school or taking specialized courses in the same school.

As long as high school is just something to do until the extra curricular activities start after the last bell, then high school will remain a joke for most teenagers.


May 11th, 2009
5:31 pm

The problem with the City of Atlanta Schools isn’t the students……it’s the stupid administration and most of all, the parents who mostly don’t care. Parents, you’ve got to start spending some quality time with your school age children and motivate them to start thinking about educating themselves and stop thinking they’re gonna be the next greatest athlete….then and only then will you see an improvement. And to the administration….”if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”….Grady’s one of the bright spots in the Atlanta System….start thinking!!!!!!!!!!!

Dr. Craig Spinks /Evans

May 11th, 2009
5:53 pm

Ask Dr. Molly Howard, principal of Jefferson County Comprehensive High School, and Carl Bethune, superintendent of public schools in Jefferson County, how they have enlisted Jefferson County residents in support of the longitudinal transformation of JCCHS into a model school.


May 11th, 2009
6:46 pm

Has anyone ever studied a “model” school for a semester or a year? How are these schools different? What happens to students from these schools after graduation? How are students from these schools doing in college?

Texas Pete

May 11th, 2009
7:02 pm

I’ve seen the Atlanta school children on the news, and all I can say is that we will need a lot more prisons in the next few years.


May 11th, 2009
9:09 pm

I’d rather see that money spent on developing superb vocational-technical education for students. Why wait until they are 18 to learn how to style hair, do bookkeeping or how to fix a car?

For a society that is so into the needs and rights of the individual, why do we throw out individual needs when it comes to schools? Why do we force every child into the same college-track mold? That’s why the average college graduation rate is 42%/62%/69% for four/five/six year graduation rates at highly selective public institutions such as UGA, because 1/3 of them don’t belong in college! Remedial classes tend to bear this out.

High school should be a privilege, not a right. By the time a kid has gotten to the 8th grade, they can read, write, add, subtract, and have a passing knowledge of history and civics. Take an aptitude/admission test in 8th grade, with an excellent vo-tech program being a viable and respectable alternative to college prep. For those that test for college prep, only top scorers can take AP classes — so you better work your butt off if you plan to get a leg up on college classes by proving that you are already ahead of the curve in your high school class.

The minute you make something exclusive, then everyone wants in. Wouldn’t it be nice is most of the kids in high school were there because they wanted to be, instead of because there was no place else for them to go?

F;red A;gain

May 12th, 2009
1:46 am

No one wants to seriously improve schools. Removes the thugs. Make serious consequences for violation of behavioral standards…like in teh 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. MACE is the only organization whips harps on this. MACE is right…despite what you have been told by the media. John Trotter is telling the truth.

jim d

May 12th, 2009
4:22 am

What should be done to improve our high schools?

The best way?



May 12th, 2009
6:15 am

Somehow this got lost but I’m trying it again…

I agree with the comment made by lyncoln at 11:12 regarding the comment made by Superintendent Hall:

“I know some people don’t like what we’re doing because their child or their program succeeded under the status quo,” Hall said. “But for every child succeeding in high school, we have had two or three who were not. This is what has to be done. I am not willing to slow down on this.”

I support doing something different in ‘some’ of our schools however don’t understand why she feels all schools must look the same. This seems somewhat inflexible and suggests she feels a ‘one size fit all’ solution is best for all students in APS.

Yes, there are additional labor costs with this approach and it will be up to the citizens to determine if this is a worthwhile investment. They don’t have the additional physical plant costs to go along with this so some savings is being realized.

William Casey

May 12th, 2009
8:15 am

Good, rational comments on today’s blog! Love it! How to improve schools?

1. Don’t waste money trying to drive square pegs into round holes. Have you ever wondered what would happen if every student became a brain surgeon, corprate lawyer, or philosophy teacher? Society would collapse but schools would be great!

2. Streamline school administration. There are LAYERS of school bureaucrats (i.e.– Bob Burke in Fulton County) who care not one whit about any childs’s learning. They are simply… “careerists.”

high school teacher

May 12th, 2009
9:27 am

Casey, I attended an inservice a few years ago where the presenter showed us a clip from Apollo 13, and told us that our students were not what they used to be, and that our job was to put a square peg in a round hole. I’m so glad for your comment.

Not politically correct

May 13th, 2009
8:11 am

Maybe I’m not politically correct, but what is up with hiring foreign teachers under three year visas to teach math and science? I find it hard to believe there is enough of a shortage of teachers to resort to doing this. Students tune out in math and science, even more when it’s hard to understand the teachers’ speech. How can this be effective? Is the effectiveness something that isn’t being measured? Or is it a sneaky way to cut costs? How many counties are doing this? All of metro Atlanta?
My boy now HATES science!

jim d

May 13th, 2009
10:55 am


Costs actually increase when you factor in sending a team of admin. types on a vacation to do the recruting.


May 15th, 2009
5:40 pm

Here are some high school costs — per student/tuition

The Cottage School (for ld & ADHD) $19,950
Woodward Academy – $19,900
Westminster – $19,750
Mt Vernon Pres – $15,530
Marist – $15,225
Atlanta Public Schools – $13,710 (for all grades)
Greater Atlanta Christian – $13,500
Decatur City – $13,443 (for all grades)
St Pius – $11,300
DeKalb Co Schools – $9896 (for all grades)
Fulton Co Schools – $9746 (for all grades)
Cobb Co Schools – $8816 (for all grades)

so – not that this has a lot to do with it – but see what people are willing to pay for a) a good education and b) for their children to attend school with other motivated children. Of course – there’s this assumption you can make from the chart — let’s use our tax $ to send everyone to St. Pius!

This is a classist society we live in – and people only care that “their” children get their needs met – they don’t really care what happens in “bad” schools – that is until they get held up at gunpoint by one of their illiterate dropouts.


May 17th, 2009
2:51 pm

So, ShoeShee, most of the good private schools cost more than most of the public schools, and among the public schools you listed, there seems to be an inverse relationship between cost and educational quality? Do I have that right?

(And how is a $4000-5000 voucher going to pay for a wonderful private school if we privatize everything?)

Parent of Carver School of the Arts student

May 31st, 2009
2:23 pm

Reality. There are only 4 schools at the New Schools at Carver. There is no school called Senior Academy. The schools are as follows:

School of the Arts
School of Health Science and Research
Early College
School of Technology

Last year there was also a School of Entrepreneurship. It was fazed out last year.

Have a good one!