AISD Seeks To Improve Minority Graduation
Public school segregation ended almost 60 years ago, but lingering economic inequality mean whites still have a better shot at a good education than minority students. The Austin school district is under pressure to address that.
Back in October, the Austin school board voted to extend Superintendent Meria Carstarphen’s $283,412 contract an extra year to 2015. The school board president at the time was Mark Williams, and he delivered Carstarphen’s job evaluation, which was mostly positive, except for a couple of points, including this one.
“A significant achievement gap continues to persist, and the rate of closing that gap is below the levels targeted in the strategic plan,” Williams said. “The board has indicated to Dr. Carstarphen that they would like to work with her over the next year to better understand the barriers to closing this gap and the approach and resources that are needed to accelerate performance of the district’s lower-performing student groups.”
Okay, if you zoned out during that, here’s the translation: white kids are doing better than most non-white kids, and the school board wants to fix it. Here’s one example. 90 percent of white high school seniors in AISD graduated on time in 2011, according to Texas Education Agency data. African Americans and Hispanics were more than 10 percentage points behind.
“So while it was what some people might argue was an impossible goal to achieve, I completely support the perspective that we should be working towards elimination,” Carstarphen said.
Carstarphen says the district has made some progress. This year, for example, it increased the graduation rate for African Americans and Hispanics by 2 percentage points. They’re offering courses in the evening to accommodate different schedules. The district has revised its punishment policy to send fewer students to disciplinary schools and keep them at their home campuses instead. At LBJ and Reagan High Schools, they launched expensive college prep programs.
“Are we moving and making a lot of good progress? Absolutely,” Carstarphen said. “Has the achievement gap been eliminated? No.”
School districts might soon face state pressure to address racial disparities. The new Texas education commissioner, Michael Williams, told the State Board of Education that he will unveil a rating system in March. That rating system will include a measure of whether school districts are closing the achievement gap.
“The greatest driver of learning is going to have a great teacher standing in front of and providing instruction to a student,” Williams told KUT News. “So all of us in the state must be about first and foremost making sure that we retain, encourage and recruit the best teachers in the classroom, that we provide the nourishment that they need through professional development and training, that we put them in a position where they can go about their business and have teachers teach and students learn.”
But more teachers with more training requires more money, and the last time state legislators dealt with public education, they cut it by $5.4 billion. The next legislative session in January probably won’t produce a major change in education funding, because lawmakers are waiting for the outcome of a school finance lawsuit that likely won’t prescribe a remedy until after the session ends in May.