Roy Varney

KUT News Intern

Roy is a second year journalism professional track graduate student at the University of Texas.

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Roy Varney / KUT

Austin public school students in fourth and eighth grade scored higher in math and reading than students in other large cities, according to results from a new government study released Wednesday. 

The report looks at results from a national standardized test given to 21 urban school districts with populations of 250,000 people or more. It’s part of the National Center for Education Statistics' National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

While the results are positive, the scores remained relatively flat from 2011 –  the last time Austin students took the test.

Roy Varney for KUT News

Texas' new voter ID  laws can be used to discourage minorities and women from voting. 

That's according to the nonprofit Texas Civil Rights Project. Today, it released a 63-page report criticizing the states' voter registration procedures, and a lack of voting registration opportunities.

Last June, the United States Supreme Court overturned a portion of the Voting Rights Act. The act was originally intended to protect voters from discrimination in voting matters, but the Supreme Court ruled that the application of the act, covering large parts of the South, was outdated.

After the Supreme Court’s ruling, Texas instituted a voter identification law. The law requires registered voters to present a valid form of identification to vote. The Texas Civil Rights Project would like to see the voter ID law overturned, because they say it can be used to deter minority populations from voting. 

Jim Sigmon / UT Athletics

Texas Longhorn’s Football Coach Mack Brown is leaving the team after 16 years.

In an email released Saturday night, Brown said the Longhorn job was the best in the country and that he wants to team to get back to the top of college football.

"I sincerely want it to get back to the top and that's why I am stepping down after the bowl game. I hope with some new energy, we can get this thing rolling again," Brown said.

UT-Austin president Bill Powers and new athletic director Steve Patterson heaped praise on Brown in the release.  Patterson said Brown was a, "...tremendous coach, mentor, leader and ambassador for our university and our student-athletes." While Powers simple said, "Mack is just the best and he will be missed."

A rendering of upcoming changes to Auditorium Shores.
City of Austin

In its final meeting of the year, the Austin City Council approved a full slate of items.

Among the measures passed was a decision restricting where dogs are permitted at Auditorium Shores. More than a dozen speakers took to the council floor to argue against the change, which would prohibit dogs from lingering on the so-called "Event Lawn" on the east end of Auditorium Shores.

Parks and Recreation Director Sara Hensely said the department took community suggestions under advisement when revising the $3.5 million plan for the parkland. But under a new amendment, dogs are only allowed on the event lawn when traveling from a parking lot to the neighboring areas where dogs are allowed. (No one on Parks staff or the City Council bothered to explain just how that would be enforced.)

Hays CISD Student Enrollment
Roy Varney / KUT

The Hays Consolidated Independent School District is expected to move forward with their request for a $60 million bond. The bond would pay for the creation of a middle school, wireless and mobile devices and additional school buses.

The school district views the spending as necessary, if it wants to keep up with student enrollment growth. On Monday, the Hays CISD School Board will vote on a bond recommendation from the district's Growth Impact Committee, a group of citizens charged by the board to assess growth of the community.

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

During her State of the District address yesterday, Austin ISD Superintendent Meria Carstarphen touted the rise in graduation rates among high school students in the district.

Since she began running the district in 2009, overall graduation rates have increased by eight percentage points. Graduation rates have increased in all subgroups, including Hispanics, English language learners and special education students.

KUT Staff

The Texas Longhorns football team will continue their slog through another disappointing season on Thanksgiving night.

The Longhorns will be facing a new Turkey Day foe: Texas Tech Red Raiders. The team will pose a challenge for a banged up and underperforming Longhorns defense. The Red Raiders feature the #1 passing offense in college football and started the season 7-0 before dropping four straight games.

Meanwhile, the Longhorns are coming off a blowout 38-13 loss to Oklahoma State. The loss likely trampled any hopes the Longhorns had to salvage a season with a Big 12 Championship. The defeat dropped the Longhorns to a dismal 29-19 record since the start of the 2010 season.

Roy Varney for KUT News

For the first time in five years, southeast Austin’s Langford Elementary School has a free book program.

Langford, where 65 percent of the students are learning English as a second language, is able to relaunch its Reading is Fundamental program with help from a neighborhood church.

Richard Villarreal is the lead pastor at Springs Community Church. He approached Langford principal Dounna Poth last spring and asked how his church could help the school. 

Roy Varney for KUT News

Disclaimer: KUT/KUTX is a sponsor of  Austin B-cycle.

The wait is over: Austinites will have a new way to beat downtown traffic come December 21.

Austin B-cycle is launching Austin’s first ever bike sharing program. There will be 11 stations located throughout downtown and south central Austin. Participants will be able to visit a station, rent a bike, ride it and return it to any station.

There’s three tiers of pricing:

  • Day pass: $8. Bikes are free to rent for their first half hour, with a $4 charge for each additional half hour.
  • Seven day pass: $25
  • Annual membership: $80

Taylor ISD

A small school district northeast of Austin is facing a football field-sized problem.

Taylor Independent School District’s athletic facilities are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Without the ADA-required access, TISD is vulnerable to lawsuits and penalties.

On Tuesday, voters in the city of Taylor rejected a bond that would have built a new all-inclusive athletics facility that would include accessibility for people who have disabilities. Now the school district faces the possibility of paying $1 million to renovate old athletics facilities that they don’t own.

flickr.com/vanwest/

Most computer users are familiar with sleep mode. But the Round Rock Independent School District has found the value in shutting their computers down completely.

The school district is expected to save an estimated $251,000 annually by using a program that automatically shuts computers down after 6 p.m. Over 30,000 desktops and laptops are automatically shut down, drastically cutting energy costs.

flickr.com/utnapistim

This is the first of a two-part look at the University of Texas' Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), now halfway through their initial semester. Read Part One here.

So what it UT getting for its $5 million investment in edX? 

UT Psychology department chair James Pennebaker describes the money spent on edX as a "great investment." He isn't certain how education will look in the near future – but he said no one has that answer. 

"UT and any serious university has to be revolutionary in its thinking,” Pennebaker says. “We have to look forward to new technologies and teaching strategies.”

Roy Varney for KUT News

This is the first of a two-part look at the University of Texas' Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), now halfway through their initial semester.

The University of Texas’ grand entry into Massive Open Online Courses is underway. The courses, better known as MOOCs, are offered as free ways for the general public to access high quality education.

By any traditional college metric, UT's MOOCs, offered for the first time this fall, would be performing terribly: The majority of students who signed up have dropped out, there is no way to detect cheating, and the grading systems are automated. But halfway through the semester, education experts view UT's MOOCs as a success – and a necessity for building the future of its education network.

Roy Varney for KUT News

Over the last three years, nearly 100 colleges and universities across the nation have added non-discrimination policies that included protection for transgender students from harassment and bullying. 10 of those universities are in Texas. However, even with the increase in non-discrimination policies, there is still a lack of awareness and visibility for many transgender students.

Shane Whalley is the Senior Program Coordinator at the Gender and Sexuality Center in the University of Texas at Austin. Whalley first came to UT as a graduate student, and has seen a lot of changes that include the 2008 non-discrimination policy and the installation of 43 gender-neutral bathrooms across campus. Additionally, Whalley says that there have been changes to the way transgender people are viewed.

Daniel Reese for KUT News

Update: State Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, spoke and answered questions regarding House Bill 5 in front of the State Board of Education today.

Patrick’s endorsement of the bill, which provides for different paths to high school graduation, was met with skepticism from board member Patricia Hardy. Hardy’s concern revolved around the removal of social studies classes from high school graduation requirements. She argued that turning social studies courses into electives limits a student’s exposure to important information.

KUT News

University of Texas running back coach Larry Porter is accused of illicitly compensating players during his time at Oklahoma State University.

In an investigative report by Sports Illustrated, the Oklahoma State football program is at the center of numerous NCAA violations, ranging from player compensation to drug use. Porter, who coached there from 2002 to 2004, is in his first season with the Longhorns.

Roy Varney for KUT News

When the Longhorns prepare for their game against Ole Miss this Saturday, they’ll do so without Manny Diaz. Defensive coordinator Diaz was fired Sunday after the Longhorns suffered a 40-21 defeat against unranked Brigham Young University this weekend.

"Our performance on defense last night was unacceptable, and we need to change that," Longhorns head coach Mack Brown said in a statement on Sunday. The loss stung particularly given Brown’s preseason confidence in the Horns this season.

UT Athletics Dept.

Texas Longhorns athletics is best known for football. But spiking a volleyball is what it's best at.

The Longhorns women’s volleyball team is hosting No. 1 ranked Penn State and No. 2 Stanford this weekend, as they set out to defend their national title. Longhorns head coach Jerritt Elliott sees this weekend’s matchups, which also feature eighth-ranked Florida, as an opportunity to garner local attention.

flickr.com/cavalierhorn

College football is back. For many that means a chance to catch their favorite team in action. For others, it’s an opportunity to get down and celebrate.

The two come together in tailgating – that long held practice of grilling, drinking, and eating in a game day parking lot. When the University of Texas Longhorns open their season against New Mexico State Saturday night, expect to see tailgaters by the drove.

KUT News

Today is the first day of school for Austin ISD, and that means nearly 90,000 students filling hallways. Meria Carstarphen, AISD’s superintendent, sees the biggest challenges in a successful year as student safety, school funding, and STAAR testing.

Roy Varney for KUT News

That thunderous gallop you hear isn’t your imagination:it’s the sound of millions of Americans rushing breathlessly to their computer and television screens. It happens every year – and every year the stampede grows louder.

It’s the beginning of fantasy football season.

Roy Varney for KUT News

How do Austinites feel about the city’s bike lanes and bike traffic? The Neighborhood Street Study aims to answer this broad question by focusing on two Austin bicycling areas located around Bluebonnet Lane and Barton Springs Road.

Researchers from Portland State University and the Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium have been commissioned by the Green Lane Project to conduct the Austin survey. 

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

Perception means different things to different people. The perception of Austin as a place that embraces the weird and wild is something the city – and its listicle writers – have embraced throughout the years.

Yet if you don’t pay close attention, these perceptions can change just as quickly as the declining reservoir in Lake Travis. Now in its fourth edition, KUT News presents The Top 10 Austin Top 10 Lists, a compilations of the accolades and slights – some rigorously methodical, some seemingly made up – that Austin’s received in the last few months.

Wells Dunbar, KUT News

Every budget year, public safety – police, fire and EMS – take the biggest chunk of money from the funds used to finance city services. Today, Austin City Council Member Bill Spelman asked if the city was getting a good return on its investment.

The Austin City Council is considering the city budget for the next fiscal year. And the Austin Police Department was among the groups presenting budget requests to the council today. Police Chief Art Acevedo spent over an hour discussing the city manager's proposed city budget – which preserves Austin’s informal policy of two police officers for every thousand Austin residents.

flickr.com/ejmc

Launching a new medical school is a major undertaking. But launching the University of Texas’ new medical school – in tandem with a new model of treating the sick and preventing illness – is even bigger.

When Austin voters approved Proposition 1 last year, increasing the property tax collected by Central Health, the measure was commonly referred to as the medical school initiative. But instead of financing the building of a medical school, taxpayer dollars are going toward a new medical program aiding the uninsured and under-insured. And yes, UT’s Dell Medical School is a part of that.

Austin Water

Cooking grease may be an afterthought for some, but as London discovered this week, grease can become a costly, time consuming problem. The city was forced to remove 15,000 tons of gunky, fatty buildup from its sewage pipelines, a so-called "Fatberg" the size of a double-decker bus.

It looks like Austin may have steered clear of the Fatberg, however: Austin has a smaller sewer system and diligent monitoring. But it’s easy to see how quickly grease buildups can transform themselves into a major cost: a 12 month summary of sanitary sewer overflows reveals that six incidents in April cost Austin Water $25,500.

flickr.com/careytilden

News flash: Lots of college students are poor.

While this probably seems like a no-brainer, a new study from the U.S. Census Bureau demonstrates how great of an impact students can have on local communities' poverty levels.

flickr.com/dellphotos

Ever feel like you’re working harder than everybody else? It might be because you are. According to recent rankings from real estate site Movoto, Austin is the fourth hardest-working U.S. city.

Basing results off six separate categories, including hours worked per week and lack of sleep, Motovo lists Seattle as the hardest working city in the states, followed by three Texas cities: Arlington, Fort Worth, and Austin.

UT Athletics

Tiger Woods never finished in the top 10 of a PGA tour event as a teenager. But former Texas Longhorn Jordan Spieth has accomplished that feat six times – all before the age of 20.

Yesterday, Spieth became the first teenager in 82 years to win a PGA tour event by claiming the John Deere Classic.

Roy Varney for KUT News

Death Cafe may sound like a new Tim Burton film or goth band. But instead, it’s a growing group of meetings where participants spend hours discussing their hopes and fears surrounding death and dying.

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