A winning formula for Atlanta’s schools

The road hasn’t always been easy, but Atlanta Public Schools has a proud history of bringing communities together to address academic and social challenges.

The road hasn’t always been easy, but Atlanta Public Schools has a proud history of bringing communities together to address academic and social challenges. We’ve made great strides as a district, especially over the last two years. Still, we have more work to do.

Though high school graduation rates climbed more than 12 percentage points from 2014 to 2015, nearly 30 percent of our students are not earning a diploma. And the diploma, even, is only a starting point in today’s job market.

That is why one of our highest priorities is not only ensuring that more of our students graduate from high school, but that they do so with the skills they need to be successful after graduation, whether they stay right here in Atlanta or take their talents and passions across the country.

With the infusion of additional resources and the right partners, we can make that goal a reality.

The district has teamed with the National Math and Science Initiative to take on this challenge.

The Initiative received a nearly $20 million Scale-up grant from the Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation (i3) 2015 grant competition to expand the initiative’s proven College Readiness Program to nine school districts across eight states.

Atlanta—with a focus on serving a high proportion of underserved students, a thriving science and engineering-based economy, and strong leadership and community support—was a natural choice for a partner.

Academic confidence

Research shows that students who succeed in challenging AP coursework are more likely than their peers to earn college degrees on time. Supporting students in challenging work also introduces them to the rigors of college courses and builds academic confidence, which is a critical component of student success.

But AP is not limited to students who traditionally take more challenging coursework. In fact, many students who have the potential to excel in rigorous courses never have the chance to enroll and thrive in them.

That’s about to change with the College Readiness Program, which—coupled with expanded access to AP courses—is providing the critical tools our teachers need to support students in rigorous study. The program includes extensive training for teachers, study sessions for students, and the equipment that powers rigorous curricula.

By dramatically increasing the number of students taking and earning qualifying scores on AP math, science and English exams—and expanding access to rigorous coursework to traditionally underrepresented students—the program is preparing our students for college and the demands of tomorrow’s jobs.

Soaring scores

Through its participation in the College Readiness Program, Atlanta Public Schools will join a legacy of more than 1,000 schools and forward-thinking districts across 34 states that have seen remarkable success as National Math and Science Initiative partners.

In just one year, the College Readiness Program has boosted the number of AP qualifying scores in partner schools by 10 times the national average. Among African-American and Hispanic students participating in the program, the increase in qualifying scores is more than six times the national average.

Even with that proven track record, the initiative and the district are humbled by the work we have ahead of us.

Meria Joel Carstarphen is superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools. Matthew Randazzo is chief executive officer of the National Math and Science Initiative.