Here is a piece by C.T. Martin, the “Dean” of the Atlanta City Council. He was elected in 1990 and represents District 10. He is also a graduate of an APS, a system that he says still has reason to be proud:
By C.T. Martin,
In 1869, Dr. Daniel O’Keefe faced fierce opposition from the city’s elite when he led the charge for the establishment of a public school system in Atlanta. The municipality’s well-heeled didn’t have the slightest desire in supporting a system in which their children would not attend since they were sent to privileged private schools.
City Council members, however, made O’Keefe’s resolution law. Thanks to O’Keefe, access to education for most of the city’s citizens was born. This was, of course, a good thing. However, there was also a less palatable racial caveat. The following year, in 1870, the first Public School Act of Georgia mandated separate black and white schools.
I’ll be clear. The negative impact of the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal will be with us for some time. But we mustn’t lose perspective here. Frankly, there’s been no history of a cheating scandal before this one.
The heritage of Atlanta’s schools includes many not-so-good and good years. The good has outnumbered the not-so-good. Ministers’ associations led by Daddy King, Joe Boone, John Boone, the Atlanta Summit (which I am proud to have been a member), organizations such as the NAACP and a slew of local educational leaders fought the good fight for educational access and equality in teacher’s pay, this in an atmosphere in which the city’s constitution required segregation by law and with governors all too willing to enforce it for cheap political gain.
We will get past a cheating scandal because we have to. Free access to education remains pressing, especially in these uncertain economic times and a changing economy that demands an educated workforce. The computer age is here to stay.
In the scheme of things, Atlanta’s schools have not done too badly. They’ve produced such notables as Martin Luther King, Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy, lawyer and business executive Vernon Jordan, celebrity judge Glenda Hatchett, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, businessman Herman Russell. As are many of my colleagues on the City Council, I am a proud product of APS.
Each year thousands of new and inspiring graduates are produced by APS like Deonte Bridges, who last year became the first African American male valedictorian of Booker T. Washington Senior Academy in more than a decade. He did it through hard work and with the support of dedicated teachers. Deonte faced challenges but overcame them, from drug enticements, robbery at gunpoint, the untimely death of his brother and other emotional setbacks. His family, like so many others, did not have deep pockets to afford a private education.
Had the elite of the city’s early days had their way, most of us would not have been able to become educated to make significant contributions to our city, state, the nation and the world in which we live.
Consider these recent APS achievements as well:
Under the BuildSmart plan, a billion dollars was invested in constructing and renovating state-of-the-art schools. From school years 1999-2000 to 2010-2011, APS built 17 new schools and renovated more than 60 others, thanks to taxpayer support from SPLOST.
APS established the 21st Century Atlanta Scholars program to prepare high-performing students for admission to selective New England colleges known as “Little Ivies.” In 2010, 100 percent of the first class of 21st Century Scholars graduated from college on time, with degrees from these prestigious institutions.
APS produced the highest number of Gates Millennium Scholars over the past three years — 69 students have earned the scholarship from 2009-2011.
As you have read, Gov. Nathan Deal and other officials have announced that they would look into what legal action can be taken against those involved in the scandal. Fine. But, still, how do we fix this — to lessen its likelihood from happening again?
Maybe, we need to revisit the school’s relationship with the Chamber of Commerce. It’s good to have input from all sectors of the community, but today the business community plays an enormous role in the APS, from the choice of superintendent to school policy. That wasn’t the case in the not-so-distant past. Our system, as a result, has lost its independence.
Also, I do not doubt the intentions of programs such as No Child Left Behind, but I wonder whether providing bonuses for achievement contributed to the scandal. As any experienced teacher knows, students don’t magically blossom simultaneously on test day. Those of us outside of the profession can only imagine the pressure to meet these goals to ensure their livelihoods.
And let us not forget that the great majority (2,816 of the system’s 3,000) teachers weren’t involved in the scandal and that the relationship between teacher and student remains among the most beneficial and endearing in our society today.
With all of our school system’s many achievements, the perception of mass cheating by every teacher and student persists. Thousands of recent graduates are asking how valuable is their APS diploma.
Recently, a 2000 graduate questioned his mother (who is a teacher) asking, “What do I do with my degree? Be proud or ashamed?” I say he should be proud. But fix the system we must—and we will, so that there’s no repeat performance to tarnish a system that doesn’t deserve it.
This is a city that survived a race riot in 1906 to become the city “ too busy to hate.” The Great Atlanta Fire of 1917 reduced attendance in Atlanta’s public schools by two-thirds. They’re still there, by the way, the students, only many more, awaiting the imminent renewal.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog