Drew Charter high school students at harp practice in December with their instructor, right. The head of the Georgia Charter Schools Association cites Drew as one of the state's most successful charters.
Photo: Steve Schaefer
Photo: Steve Schaefer

Opinion: Georgia charter schools delivering on their promise

Tony Roberts is president and CEO of the Georgia Charter Schools Association. He wrote this piece to mark National Charter Schools Week.

By Tony Roberts

Why celebrate National Charter Schools week in Georgia? Stated simply, this is a time to highlight the many positive contributions of public charter schools to public education in Georgia. Your taxpayer dollars support these schools, so you should know about the return on your investment.

Allow me to share some great things we are seeing in Georgia. First, Georgia public charter school students are enrolling and persisting in college.

A recent study by Georgia State University’s Center for State and Local Finance found that students who attended a public charter high school in our state were four percent more likely to graduate from high school and six percent more likely to register for college than their counterparts in traditional public schools. 

This trend is highlighted in new data released this month by Atlanta Public Schools.

In 2018, Charles R. Drew Senior Academy students had the highest college enrollment of all APS high schools. KIPP Atlanta Collegiate also ranked among the top Atlanta Public high schools for college enrollment.

According to the same data, larger percentages of 2017 Charles R. Drew Senior Academy graduates were more likely to remain in college for a second year than those receiving diplomas from other APS high schools. In 2017, Charles R. Drew Senior Academy and KIPP Atlanta Collegiate had the highest college enrollment percentages in APS.

Secondly, there is also encouraging news on the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress. Georgia charter fourth graders outperformed traditional students by 17 points in math and 12 points in reading. African-American fourth grade students surpassed their traditional school peers by 9 points in math and 2 points in reading; Georgia’s white fourth graders scored 26 points higher than traditional school peers on math and 4 points in reading. Georgia’s black eighth graders outperformed traditional school students by 1 point in reading and 2 points in math; white eighth graders scored 7 points higher in math.

These success stories illustrate how public charter schools throughout Georgia are strengthening the state’s overall public school system. Charter schools are getting positive results because they have the flexibility to meet the unique needs of students and families. They offer many different types of curricula and delivery models, so families can choose the public school that works best for them. 

For instance, students in every zip code can take advantage of high-quality options like Georgia Connections Academy, a virtual public charter school that serves more than 4,000 students. Georgia Connections made history last year by becoming one of the only virtual schools in the nation to ever achieve a passing grade as a district by state measures in every grade band – elementary, middle and high school. 

According to the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, Georgia Connections Academy is also “Beating the Odds,” by closing the achievement gap. The virtual charter school has also increased its graduation rate by 15 percent. These academic accomplishments have led Georgia Connections Academy to earning a "green" rating on the academic framework of the Comprehensive Performance Framework established by its authorizer, the State Charter Schools Commission – another first for a virtual school. 

In the city of Atlanta, families have a number of unique public charter school options such as Wesley International Academy. The K-8 school is authorized by the Atlanta school board and offers an International Baccalaureate curriculum and daily Mandarin Chinese instruction to all students. Wesley Middle school students have the opportunity to strengthen their language skills by participating in study abroad program in China. The school also has a rigorous academic program, outperforming the state and local district on the College and Career Ready Performance Index with an overall score of 84.9.

In north Georgia, Mountain Education Charter High School provides young Georgians with a second chance to receive an accredited high school diploma. Many of the more than 2,200 students the school now serves have already dropped out of their regular high schools for various reasons such as working to support their families, or they’ve been unsuccessful in a traditional school environment. The public charter school, which is authorized by the State Charter Schools Commission, works in collaboration with the local school districts it serves to give students additional options to earn their diploma.

Georgia Connections Academy, Mountain Education Charter High School and Wesley International Academy are just a small portion of the public charter schools that my organization, the Georgia Charter Schools Association, partners with to ensure more Georgia students have access to a high-quality education. Our goal is to work with schools, districts, state lawmakers, policy makers and members of the community to elevate Georgia’s public schools so students have a brighter future. 

Public charter schools complement traditional public schools and ensure the state’s public education system is able to meet the needs of all Georgia students and continue moving our state forward academically and economically. 

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.