How Good (or Bad) are Metro Atlanta Schools?

Ari Meier

And it’s not about the percentage of kids on free or reduced lunch.

School quality has been a big topic for decades and there seem to be no quick and easy answers. We all usually agree that school quality metrics involve test scores, graduation rates, and parental involvement. School districts can also be affected negatively by non-educationally related issues such as school board in-fighting and administrative and organizational negligence. This could threaten the school district’s accreditation, which can cause potential residents of an area to not consider the area. A few years ago, DeKalb County School District nearly lost its accreditation because of something not related to its quality of education. This is an example of adults not putting the children and what they are tasked with first.

I Didn’t Want to Go to a bad school

Both of my parents were educators and dinner time was often peppered with what was happening in the schools and the school board. I enjoyed listening to this “teacher gossip”, especially when it would touch on principals and teachers at my current school or former schools. When faced with going to high school, I wanted to attend the high school that the majority of where my middle school friends would go. My parents weren’t going for that, so I found all kinds of reasons why I didn’t want to go to the school I was zoned to attend. Finally, I pulled the bad school card. I would never forget what my mom said in response to this.

“There’s nothing wrong with that school, they have some of the best teachers in the county. Low test scores doesn’t mean that the teachers are bad or the kids doesn’t know anything.” Years later, when I had children of my own, I remembered my mom’s declaration when fussing and haggling over where to move. Although my older kids attended private school in their earlier years, they graduated from DeKalb County High Schools. They did well.

the dark side of school rating sites

I used GreatSchools.org before moving a couple of years ago. I found its user interface simple, but looking deeper into the metrics going into the 1-10 rating system, I found the percentage of free or reduced lunches, racial composition, and standardized test scores were parameters used in the ratings. I’m not sure if whether a child getting free or reduced lunch has any bearing on the quality of the school in educating said child.

When doing research on the accuracy of GreatSchools.org, I found comments from parents around the country coming to the conclusion that GreatSchools.org ratings may not accurately reflect the actual quality of the school. Several years ago on a popular real estate site, a parent detailed his search for a good public school and was dismayed after seeing the chosen school rated as a 3. He visited the school and was impressed enough to enroll his kids anyway and both he and the kids absolutely love the school. I am not suggesting that school rating companies are pulling data out of their back ends, the numbers alone should not be only way schools are judged. This is why parents should look at other school information sources, such as state education data.

how the school districts rate

I compared six major metro Atlanta school districts, using data from the State of Georgia department of education. I looked at graduation rates, district expenditures per students, racial demographics and overall school district scores. The key takeaways are:

2018 Graduation rates range from 71.71% in Clayton County Schools to 86.77% in Fulton County Schools. Clayton County schools average graduation rate is about 17% less than that of Fulton County Schools, and per student expenditure spending mirrors that of the difference in graduation rate. Clayton County School per student expenditures are about 18% less than Fulton County School spending. The average graduation rate for the state of Georgia is 81.6% and 84.1% for the U.S. Gwinnett County School district had the highest overall rating (all metrics considered
such as, graduation rate, student preparedness, spending efficiency, etc), with an 83 and also had the lowest spending per student ($8,186.38) out of the major metro Atlanta school districts. This is not a surprise as low scoring school districts usually outspend high-scoring districts. The big question persists: where is the money going?

Data from Georgia Department of Education

Data from Georgia Department of Education

Data from Georgia Department of Education

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