The National Blue Ribbon Schools Award is the federal government’s highest honor for public and private schools. Winners set “a standard of excellence for all schools striving for the highest level of achievement,” the U.S. Department of Education says. The program began in 1982.
Winning schools must either be “high performing” or, if at least 40 percent of their students come from poor families, must show substantial test-score increases. The department says it seeks out schools “where students attain and maintain high academic standards, including those that beat the odds.”
The top education official from each state nominates public schools; based on enrollment, Georgia gets eight nominations a year. An association representing private schools submits 50 nominations a year.
Atlanta Public Schools has won five awards from the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program in the past decade. How most of the winning schools described themselves – in applications filed with the U.S. Department of Education – is significantly different than the picture that emerges from a state cheating investigation released last year and from a recent analysis of test scores by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In retrospect, it is clear that four of the five Atlanta schools won awards despite signs of their involvement in what would turn into a massive cheating scandal.