Is Austin willing to confront school segregation?

Members of band at Reagan High School in North Austin.

I wish I were more familiar with school district politics, so I don’t know whether this will amount to anything. From KUT:

A group of education advocates has released what it is calling a manifesto, demanding the Austin Independent School District immediately address inequities for schools in East Austin.

The group is demanding that the district make the student achievement of minority and low-income students it first priority, compensate and train teachers to work with these populations of students, and address segregation in the district by redrawing boundary lines.

Press conferences about “addressing inequities” are a dime-a-dozen. Just about every self-proclaimed progressive elected official would be more than happy to attend said conference,  support setting up a task force to examine the issue, and approve spending some money to provide school staff more training on cultural sensitivity and white privilege.

But when you start talking about shifting school boundary lines, that’s when a few of those officials begin to have scheduling conflicts. All good progressives love diversity and hate segregation. Except when they’re deciding where to live or where their kids should go to school. Those two decisions are most often directly connected.

Here are the demographics of the district.

Race/Ethnicity: 58% Hispanic, 27% Anglo, 7.6% African American, 4% Asian.

Economically Disadvantaged: 53%

English Language Learners: 28.7%

Just looking at elementary schools in town, there are none that come close to matching the demographic profile of the district. The closest I’ve come across is Maplewood Elementary School, located in a gentrified part of East Austin, and Becker Elementary, located in Bouldin.  Pease Elementary, located just north of downtown on Rio Grande St, has racial and ethnic diversity, but only 15% of its student body is economically disadvantaged. (L to R: Demographics for Maplewood, Becker, Pease)

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The schools with the lowest percentage of minority and low-income students are, surprise surprise, either west of MoPac or within a stone’s throw to the east. I believe the award for whitest and richest goes to Casis Elementary, located in Tarrytown. Highland Park Elementary, which is just west of MoPac and south of Hancock Drive, comes in a close second: 76% white and only 5.6% economically disadvantaged. Hill, Bryker Woods, Gullett and Barton Hills all had fewer than 10% of their students economically disadvantaged.

(L to R: Casis, Highland Park, Bryker Woods)

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On the other end of the spectrum is Norman Elementary. It’s diverse in that it is almost evenly split between blacks and Latinos, but almost every student is economically disadvantaged and there are virtually no white or Asian students. Nearby Ortega Elementary has actually performed quite well on standardized tests. There actually is a substantial minority of students at Ortega who aren’t economically disadvantaged, but the segregation is nevertheless stark. Galindo Elementary, located in a historically working class but rapidly gentrifying part of South Austin, is 90% economically disadvantaged and a whopping 61.5% of students are English language learners.

(L to R: Norman, Galindo, Ortega)

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Changing the school boundaries and making it harder for parents to opt out of their designated school is likely a necessary part of boosting integration. But the longer-term solution will have to involve integrating neighborhoods. The only way to do that is to allow people of different incomes to live next to each other. And you can’t do that if certain areas are off-limits to those who can’t afford to buy a single-family house.

3 thoughts on “Is Austin willing to confront school segregation?

  1. Changing school boundaries needs to be approached with extreme care. Studies have shown that walking or biking to school is a very important component of kids’ exercise (and exercise is something that not enough kids do these days, and brings them all kinds of benefits). And a big 2012-2013 Danish study specifically found that walking/biking to school helps with concentration during the day.

    Also, AISD feels that a relatively loose transfer policy is important to compete with charter schools. It’s a (sad) fact of Texas life that charter schools can become extremely well-funded if they simply succeed at recruiting students. It’s hard to deny this reality after talking to parents of both transfer students as well as charter school students: making transfers harder would directly boost leakage from AISD schools into charter schools, possibly by a significant amount.

    1. Agree, but there are areas where the closest school is actually not the one that a child is zoned to. For example, look at the boundaries for Wooten Elementary–the northern part of Crestview (ie south of Anderson) is zoned to Brentwood, when kids walking distance from Wooten don’t go there. Look at the demographics of both those schools.

  2. Is 60% ELL “whopping”?

    Here’s our schools’ english-language learners. (Economically disadvantaged in parentheses.)
    Walnut Creek 75% (94%)
    Guerrero-Thompson 86% (98%)
    Barrington 70% (98%)
    TA Brown 69% (99%)
    Webb Primary 75% (92%)


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