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To Close Achievement Gap, Austin ISD Must 'Pay Attention' To The East Side

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT
Austin School Board member Ted Gordon speaks with KUT's Jennifer Stayton.

As the Austin Independent School District deals with declining enrollment and decisions about facilities and campuses, many wonder if students across the district are getting the same quality of education. AISD school board member Ted Gordon, who represents District 1 in East and Northeast Austin, joined KUT’s Jennifer Stayton to discuss achievement gaps and possible solutions in the district.


Transcript (edited for clarity):

Jennifer Stayton: The district commission has conducted a self-assessment about equity, and one of at least the preliminary findings was that there are definitely gaps in achievement, gaps in access, especially for African-American students and economically disadvantaged students. So, I want to talk first of all about that assessment and where things stand with that.

 Ted Gordon: All right, well, that's a good question. I don't think that there has been a final result from the equity self-assessment. It's something the district has been involved in for over two years now, and I have yet to see a final result from that. I think the district has some preliminary results that they're attempting to work on. But, you know, one of my questions is, well, where are the final results of the equity self-assessment? You're absolutely right that we know even without the equity self-assessment that there are enormous achievement gaps between black and other kids in our schools, and those are things that the district definitely needs to confront.

Jennifer: All right so first of all, we know that there are gaps there, assessment or no assessment finished yet. What does that gap look like and feel like for students on a day in and day out basis? How is that impacting them?

Ted: Well, I think on a day-to-day basis those students may not feel those gaps directly, at least in part because our schools are so segregated. On the east side of I-35 in the district that I represent, these are schools that are, in general, over 90 percent lower socioeconomic status and black and brown. So, you know, you're in schools where everybody is achieving more or less at the same level. The achievement gaps really happen between East and West in this town, not, you know, within the schools themselves.

Jennifer: So students all across the district aren't getting an equal shake?

Ted: Well, they don't seem to be. You were talking in a previous segment, I think, about the fact that black folks seem to be leaving Austin. I think one of the reasons why black folks have left Austin, in addition to the economic realities, is that AISD schools have not done what they're supposed to do in relation to black kids. And so black families looking for decent schooling for their kids go elsewhere.

Jennifer: Well the research that that was done, the data from a few years ago shows that actually the number two reason why African-Americans left Austin was in search of better schools.

Ted: Because historically schools on the East Side have not been given the kinds of resources or the kind of attention that schools elsewhere in town have been given.

Jennifer: So what does the district do?

Ted: I think what the district needs to pay more attention to the East Side. I think that this administration, school administration and certainly myself and the board are trying to pay more attention to what's going on in these schools. I think a previous administration of the AISD was actually set on letting charter schools take over the problem of East Side schools. I think that's no longer the policy. And I think now what we need to do is to pay attention to doing school by school, principal by principal, what's necessary to make these schools work and allow these schools to give the kind of quality education to black and brown kids that black and brown kids — that we all deserve.

"I think now what we need to do is to pay attention to doing school by school, principal by principal, what's necessary to make these schools work."

Jennifer: Is there funding for that? How do you pay for all of that?

Ted: Well, that's a problem. You know the state in general — well, this country in general — does not spend enough money on education, but this state in particular is ridiculous in terms of, you know, one of the wealthiest states in the nation is, you know, on sort of the tail end of school funding. The school funding model here is criminal if you ask me. So, one of the things that has to happen is we need to be able to provide more funding for public schools in general. We certainly don't need to be diverting it off into funding charter schools and private schools and things like that. And I think in Austin in particular we need to be able to keep more of the money that we take from taxes in Austin to be able to put into schools, particularly schools on the east side of I-35.

Jennifer: So in your opinion, what would success look like here? You know, if we chatted again in two years or three years or five years, what would cause you to say, "You know what, there was a problem, we fixed it, we got it right."

Ted: I think there's a number of things that you can look to for success. One is, you know, I'm not a big proponent of standardized testing, but I think there is a problem when you see kids in one area of town doing really well on standardized tests and kids in another area of town not doing well. So the most simple thing is some kind of reduction in the achievement gap on standardized tests for different sides of town. But I think the other thing is, I think we would be successful if the kids, for example in District 1 is an increasingly integrated community for better or for worse. You know, we're no longer all black, and we're certainly not all Latino. It's an integrated community. One of the things that would be an indication of success is if our schools represented the diversity of the community itself. If local folks, if families were sending their kids to our schools, that would be success.

Jennifer: Austin school board member Ted Gordon represents District 1 in East and Northeast Austin. Thanks for joining us, Ted, this morning.

Ted: You didn't give me enough time, but you're more than welcome. 

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