Education

Austin ISD, the University of Texas, Austin Community College, Texas A&M University, charter schools, legislative issues, and anything else related to K-12, public education, higher education and workforce development in Central Texas, Travis County, and Austin.

Daniel Reese for KUT News

The Texas Senate Committee on Education today talked about possible funding options to promote school choice.

Lawmakers want to know if having more school options will create competition and, in turn, make all schools in the state better. One option to encourage school choice is a so-called taxpayer savings grant program. The idea was proposed in the Texas Legislature last year as part of House Bill 33. It would pay up to 60 percent of the amount that the state spends per pupil each year on school maintenance and operations for private school tuition – that’d be about $5,200.

Joe Bast is the President and CEO of the Heartland Institute – a non-profit research center based in Chicago. He looked at the numbers and believes many Texas families would take advantage of the option and that it would save taxpayers a big chuck of money right away.

Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

AISD Superintendent Meria Carstarphen opened an all-staff convocation today by highlighting achievements in the district. But she also made clear there’s room for improvement.

Carstarphen told teachers they will have to handle non-violent disciplinary cases with in-school suspensions. It’s part of a policy the district is pursuing to increase graduation rates among minorities, who are disproportionately placed in the districts disciplinary schools.

“Nearly a third of African American and Hispanic males did not graduate on time. Hispanic females have dropout rates that are five times higher than Caucasian females in the district,” Carstarphen says.

In a new study, The Pew Hispanic Center says that for the first time ever, Hispanics have become the largest minority group in the country's college campuses.

It's a report that marks many firsts for the ethnic group, which has been making great strides in education since 1972.

Among them: For the first time, there were more than 2 million latinos ages 18 to 24 enrolled. They reached a record 16.5 percent of all college enrollment. Hispanics make up a little more than a quarter of 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled in two-year colleges.

The commission in charge of accrediting universities in the Mid-Atlantic region has warned Penn State that if it doesn't make changes in light of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, it could lose its accreditation.

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education put the university "on warning," the AP reports, saying that it wants a report on how the university is complying with integrity standards.

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

The Austin school district is racking its brain trying to come up with a way to help turn around two middle schools repeatedly ranked “academically unacceptable” by the state. The latest plan for Pearce and Garcia Middle Schools involves converting them to single-sex campuses, but that proposal has not received resounding support from the public. That uncertainty surfaced last night among members of the Austin school board.

Pearce and Garcia Middle schools are each about two-thirds Hispanic and one-third African-American, give or take. Both student populations are almost all economically disadvantaged, as measured by the number of students on the National School Lunch Program.

Year after year, both schools have wound up on the state's list of academically unacceptable campuses. And year after year, school board trustees proclaim the need to do something about it.

“Sitting on this side of the fence, it just seems that we've got to do something different for that community, and if we don't, failing those students is not an option,” Trustee Lori Moya said during a work session Monday night.

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

An Austin ISD proposal to convert two northeast campuses into a pair of single-sex middle schools will go before the school board tonight.

They won’t take action on the plan for Pearce and Garcia Middle Schools, but board members will have a chance to discuss what has become a controversial recommendation.

Members of the public had a lot of questions for the district during a series of open forums on the proposal. This particular meeting at LBJ High School got heated and some parents said they left feeling that their questions about the benefits of single-sex education weren’t answered. Even Cheryl Bradley – the school board member who represents the district and has been a strong proponent of single-sex schools – told KXAN afterwards that it was time to “stop and rethink” the idea.

Nathan Bernier/KUT News

A majority of Central Texas school districts did not meet federal standards this year under the No Child Left Behind law. It’s largely the outcome of tougher passing standards. But the results have some education officials questioning the validity of the testing system.

Some of the Central Texas school districts that failed to meet NCLB’s Adequate Yearly Progress standards included Austin, Round Rock, Pflugerville, Leander, Del Valle, Manor, Georgetown, Dripping SpringsHays and San Marcos. In Central Texas, the few school districts that did meet AYP were located in higher income areas such the Eanes, Lago Visa and Lake Travis. But even in Lake Travis, the high school failed to meet AYP.  

Liang Shi for KUT News

The University of Texas at Austin filed a brief Monday with the U.S. Supreme Court defending its use of race as a factor in admissions.

An applicant to UT filed the suit because she says she was denied admission in 2008 because she’s white.

The university says race is just one of many factors considered in admissions and that its use is necessary and constitutional.

UT-Austin President Bill Powers released a short video discussing the case. In it, he says officials are “confident the university will prevail.”

Flickr user Cindy Schultz, http://bit.ly/Nr1Wbo

High school graduation rates in Texas hit a record high last year, according to a new report by the Texas Education Agency.

Eighty-six percent of the class of 2011 graduated "on-time," a measure that counts ninth graders who graduate within four years. When you expand it to five years, the graduation rate was 92 percent. Hispanics, African-Americans, and white students all posted gains.

However, the speed at which graduation rates are improving slowed. Schools showed a 1.6 percentage gain in the 2011 school year, compared to a 3.7 percent increase the year before. But the Texas Education Agency says it’s not a big concern.

Rune Mathisen/Texas Tribune

A UT professor has released research that could be a big problem for state testing.

Walter Stroup is a UT professor in charge of a pilot math program for middle school students in Dallas. The Texas Tribune writes that Stroup and two other researchers have compiled studies on the TAKS standardized test, which they say demonstrates an error related to the statistical method used to assemble the tests – suggesting that the tests are essentially useless at measuring effective classroom instruction.

Education company Pearson has a $468 million contract to write the state’s standardized tests through 2015. It is also responsible for the controversial STAAR test.

University of Texas

A study by University of Texas researcher Mark Regnerus that questioned the parenting abilities of gay couples is “severely flawed,” according to an internal audit by the scientific journal that published it, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports.

The highly critical audit, a draft of which was provided to The Chronicle by the journal’s editor, also cites conflicts of interest among the reviewers, and states that “scholars who should have known better failed to recuse themselves from the review process.”

The study was published in the journal Social Science Research.  A member of the journal’s editorial board, Southern Illinois University sociology professor Darren Sherkat, was assigned to examine the peer review process. His assessment was blunt.

“It’s bulls**t,” Sherkat told the Chronicle of Higher Education, adding that the study should never have been published. 

A&M's Outsourcing Plans Have Workers Concerned

Jul 27, 2012
Callie Richmond for Texas Tribune

When the Texas A&M University System announced that its flagship would gain $260 million in new revenue and savings in the next 10 years by outsourcing its building maintenance, landscaping and dining services, Chancellor John Sharp said the plan was an unprecedented way to raise money in financially struggling higher education.

“Today’s announcement means more money will be available to recruit, pay and retain faculty and researchers,” he said at a news conference on June 21.

But excitement over the plan is not universal. Many people on campus and in the surrounding community are worried and angry. A&M staff members who perform the support services have expressed concern over their future employment. And Bryan-College Station vendors fret that they could lose one of their biggest clients.

KUT News

The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in October in a case challenging the use of affirmative action at the University of Texas at Austin.

Abigail Fisher filed a lawsuit against UT-Austin in 2008. She says she wasn’t admitted to the university because she’s white.

The Supreme Court will hear the case October 10.

For the first time since the early 1980s, the federal government will spend less on American children this year, the Urban Institute's latest "Kids' Share" study (pdf) finds.

Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

Texas may soon add one more item to the list of national education practices it has bucked over the years.  

Because of changes coming to the GED in 2014, the Texas Education Agency is putting out feelers to figure out how much a new state-based high school equivalency exam would cost.

Last year, the American Council on Education, a national organization of higher-education institutions that develops the exams, partnered with Pearson, a London-based testing company. They formed a jointly owned entity called GED Testing Services, which has since overhauled the exam in an effort to better test the skills needed in the workplace.

Bob Daemmrich/Texas Tribune

On Tuesday, the University of Virginia reinstated President Teresa Sullivan after her forced resignation this month sparked a dramatic outcry. Throughout the ordeal, observers have drawn parallels to Sullivan’s former stomping grounds: the University of Texas at Austin, where she worked for nearly three decades.

For the last year and a half, speculation has swirled about the intentions of some University of Texas System regents. Many feared that those regents — appointed by Gov.Rick Perry — were put in place to implement a controversial set of dramatic policy changes the governor had promoted that some criticized for being anti-academic and overly business-minded. So when Sullivan was abruptly terminated at UVA, apparently over her opposition to her board’s eagerness to push rapid top-down changes, UT observers’ antennas perked up.

Texas Tribune

According to Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp, a law school is "one of the few things that have been missing from A&M for a very long time."

That era is coming to a close.

Controversy erupted in 2009 when the Texas State Board of Education debated changes to the state's textbooks that centered on the teaching of evolution.

The Revisionaries documents the Board of Education's contentious battle, focusing in large part on Don McLeroy — a young-earth creationist and, at the time, chairman of the Texas Board of Education. The film is being screend at the American Film Institute's Silverdocs Film Festival.

KUT News

A temporary schedule change for Austin ISD schools and offices goes into effect today. AISD says the change is an effort to cut energy usage this summer.

Starting today and running through July 27, AISD offices will be closed on Fridays. Employees will work 10-hour days Monday through Thursday. Office hours will be 7 a.m to 6 p.m.

Schools and offices will be completely closed the week of July 2.

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

Only nine states spent less on education spending per student than Texas in the 2009-2010 school year, according to newly released data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The numbers reflect spending levels before $5.4 billion in education spending cuts were enacted by the state legislature in 2011.

Texas spent $8,746 per student in 09-10. That compares with a national average of $10,615, an increase of more than one percent from the previous year.

The Austin school board has unanimously approved a billion dollar spending plan for next school year. The expenditure budget includes a $30 million deficit. That will be paid for with money from AISD’s emergency cash reserve, which it calls the fund balance.

A large portion of that deficit is the result of a one-time, three percent pay raise for staff. The board will officially adopt the full budget in August, after it decides whether to call for an election on raising property taxes.

virginia.edu

A University of Texas professor is at the center of controversy in her new home at the University of Virginia, where until just recently she was president of the school. 

Teresa A. Sullivan taught for decades at UT-Austin, ultimately rising to Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs for the UT System. In the summer of August 2010, she was named president of the University of Virginia (UVA).

It was a position she held without apparent controversy – until news broke she was stepping down from her position, apparently under pressure, eight days ago.

In a way, the controversy in Virginia recalls a similar action closer to home: rumors that University of Texas president Bill Powers had been marked for ouster by the school’s Board of Regents. Speculation regarding Powers’ job grew after he clashed with the board after it declined to approve a tuition increase Powers sought.

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

Austin school board members meet tonight and they have a lot to talk about. The nine men and women who govern the largest district in Central Texas will get a first glance tonight at how well students in Austin did on the state’s new standardized test – the STAAR exam.

So far, much like the state outcomes, AISD results are mixed. Almost half of high school students failed the writing test. But more than four out of five passed the high school biology test.

Why the big difference? One major reason is this: A passing grade on the writing test is 65 percent. A passing grade in biology is 37 percent.

Photo courtesy flickr.com/USDAgov

The Austin Independent School District will be feeding free breakfast and lunch to children starting today. The summer food service program is in place at more than two dozen campuses.

Students don’t have to apply for the program. The free meals are open to any child ages one through 18 regardless of family income.

Photo by Daniel Reese for KUT News

Should schools be able to keep tabs on a student’s location?

Because Texas schools are funded per student in attendance, budgets hinge on the accuracy of morning roll call. The use of Radio Frequency Identification tags, or RFIDs, can certainly improve accuracy, but some consider them an invasion of privacy.

RFIDs are small beacons that both transmit and receive information. They’re often used to track product inventory. But some school districts have attached RFIDs to students’ photo ID cards, letting administrators know which students are on campus.

Photo courtesy makedreamsrealityscholarship.webs.com

As college-bound high school seniors graduate this month, many of them will have to worry about how they’re going to pay for their education.

But for one Manor, Texas student, her senior year has focused instead on helping to pay for someone else to go to school, by creating a scholarship for a fellow student from Manor – an undocumented student.

Make DREAMs Reality is a campaign created by Audrey Vivar, a senior at Manor New Technology High School. Vivar is offering a $500 scholarship for a Manor graduate who wants to go on to college, no social security number required.

Photo by Mario Jacinto for KUT News

As part of a national day of action, undocumented students rallied on the University of Texas campus yesterday in support of the DREAM act.

Students United for the Dream Act called for rallies across the country on Thursday, to urge for passage of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors act, which provides undocumented youth a path to legal citizenship in the United States.

Undocumented youth from Austin and San Antonio, joined by members of the University Democrats, gathered and spoke on the lawn near the LBJ library at UT yesterday. KUT News captured audio from the event's speakers, embedded above.

Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

SAN ANTONIO — When Gene Powell first arrived at the University of Texas at Austin in 1964, it was on a scholarship to play offensive guard and defensive linebacker for the legendary coach Darrell K Royal.

“I was a very average to mediocre football player, and that’s probably being generous,” Powell, a real estate developer and South Texas native, recalled during an interview at his San Antonio office this week.

More than four decades later, Powell was asked to return to Austin — this time by Gov.Rick Perry, who needed a staunch ally and strong leader to support his reforms on the University of Texas System’s board of regents.

Photo by Crystal Chavez for KUT News

Is UT Austin President Bill Powers’ job in jeopardy?

Those rumors started circulating last week, following a post from Texas Monthly’s Paul Burka. Powers had recently and publicly clashed with the UT Board of Regents after a proposed tuition hike at the system’s flagship institution was voted down.

Despite denials from those involved, the rumors continue. But what exactly would it take to oust Powers?  

Photo by Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

We’re all familiar with school bake sales – those PTA-organized sugar-fests focused on raising money for band uniforms and financing field trips.

But Save Texas Schools, a group pushing for greater state investment in public education, hosted a bake sale this afternoon with a slightly loftier goal: raising, say, over five billion dollars selling cupcakes.

The tongue-in-cheek event, held in the shadow of the State Capitol, had a serous purpose: drawing attention to state budget cuts to education.

Pages