Community-led, not top-down, strategies build strong public schools




Autumn Blanchard
Southern Education Foundation
(404) 991.6766


1119 ATLANTA– DECEMBER 17, 2015 The Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, and the Southern Education Foundation (SEF), two advocates for equity in education, today jointly released “Investing in What Works: Community-driven Strategies for Strong Public Schools.” This report is the most recent in a series of analyses of state takeover initiatives and other education governance reforms. In November 2016, Georgians will be asked to approve a state takeover modeled on the laws reviewed in this report. Finding little evidence of success, the authors, while flanked by supporters at their press conference today held in the halls of the Georgia State Capitol, provide an alternative vision for sustained school improvement inclusive of eight research-proven strategies. 

Speakers urged voters to take into account lessons learned from past takeovers in Louisiana (Recovery School District), Tennessee (Achievement School District), and Michigan (Education Achievement Authority), which have not proven effective. These initiatives have relied on converting schools to charters or closing them altogether. The results have been highly stratified institutions and deepened segregation, widened gaps in achievement, and further disadvantaging schools that already struggle to keep pace with their counterparts. “As legislators prep to return to work and voters ready for an election year, it’s our intent to share our ideas before their minds are made up. We believe the eight strategies in this paper outline an alternative path to creating successful public schools that we ask Georgians to consider as we evaluate the recommendations of the Education Reform Commission and OSD referendum. All of us are ready for the challenge ahead,” said Dr. Sid Chapman, a teacher and president of the Georgia Association of Educators.

The report goes on to suggest that Georgia’s takeover proposal, the Opportunity School District (OSD), is a high-stakes proposition for the state. The OSD would disproportionately impact low-income communities with many schools targeted for takeover being concentrated in Atlanta (26 schools), Richmond (21 schools) and DeKalb County (24 schools). Additionally, the student population across all OSD-eligible schools is composed of 94% African American and Latino students. “The architects of the OSD are targeting low-income communities using arbitrary achievement levels to declare their schools and the students in them as failing," said Kent McGuire, president of SEF.

This report calls for investment, not divestment, in Georgia public schools, and for effective strategies like access to high-quality early childhood education, collaborative school leadership, quality teaching, wraparound supports, restorative practices and student-centered environments, culturally relevant curriculum and deep parent-community-school ties for students from low-income communities. “This report provides an important framework and crucial strategies for working with communities to support their local schools, as opposed to having change forced on them by a state takeover. We're excited to be part of this work and look forward to hearing from families and communities in this process," said Janet Kishbaugh of Public Education Matters Georgia. 

“Effective school reform is done in collaboration with communities, parents, students, educators and administrators," said Warren Simmons, executive director of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, and a Southern Education Foundation board member. "Top-down strategies have repeatedly not proven successful in sustaining high-quality public education. It is the teachers, school leaders, students and parents who must carry out and push forward any improvement strategies; they must be engaged for the reforms to succeed."

Among those present and supportive of the initiative were national superintendent of the year, Dr. Philip Lanoue of Clarke County Schools, Dr. Sid Chapman, president of Georgia Association of Educators, and a host of concerned educators, parents and community members. 

Download report

Download full report here. 

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About Southern Education Foundation 

The Southern Education Foundation (SEF), founded in 1867, is an Atlanta-based research institution and policy advocate whose mission is to advance equity and excellence in education for all students in the South, particularly low-income students and students of color. SEF uses collaboration, advocacy and research to improve outcomes from early childhood to adulthood. Their core belief is that education is the vehicle by which all students get fair chances to develop their talents and contribute to the common good. SEF publishes a host of impactful reports including “A New Majority” & “Performance Funding at MSIs” as featured in The Washington Post and Inside Higher Ed, respectively. For more information, visit