AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Austin school district has graduated its low-income students at a lower rate for the past two years than any other large urban district in Texas, according to a newspaper analysis.
The Austin American-Statesman reported (http://bit.ly/16Irhdn ) that the city's district places at the bottom of the so-called "Big 8" urban Texas school districts when it comes to graduating students who qualify for free or reduced lunch in spite of improvements in recent years.
Just less than 79 percent of the district's 2,400 low-income students in the class of 2012 graduated. Austin also ranked second-to-last in the graduation rates of Hispanic students and in the middle for black students.
"It is totally unacceptable to me and to this city that our most vulnerable students would perform lower than the state average, much less at the bottom of the other Big 8 districts," said Austin Trustee Gina Hinojosa.
But Superintendent Meria Carstarphen emphasizes the strides the district has made.
The district's overall graduation rate peaked in 2012 at 82.5 percent and the rates have increased in all categories in recent years. Credit-recovery and drop-out prevention programs have contributed to the gains.
Lanier High School graduated nearly 80 percent of its students in 2012, up from 56 percent in 2008. Travis High School has improved to nearly 78 percent in 2012 from 55.5 percent in 2008.
"When you cut through all the numbers, one simple fact remains: More (Austin Independent School District) students are graduating, especially our most vulnerable students," Carstarphen said. "Our schools have achieved dramatic gains over the last four years.
"For example, our economically disadvantaged students have achieved 17.7 percentage point gains," the superintendent said. "While we always have more work to do, it is wrong to simply focus on the negative instead of the tremendous progress our students, teachers and administrators have made."
University of Texas education researcher Julian Vasquez Heilig said there are a number of reasons for Austin's low ranking.
"You would expect because it's a progressive city that we'd perform better than other urban districts, but hidden beneath the veneer, there are deep patterns of segregation and inequality spread across pockets of the city," Vasquez Heilig said.
The Austin school board had set a goal to graduate 90 percent of all students by 2015.
"We have a lot of work to do," said Edmund Oropez, Austin's associate superintendent for high schools. "Graduation rates are a work in progress. We're not satisfied until we're moving toward that 100 percent graduation rate."
Information from: Austin American-Statesman, http://www.statesman.com