Friday, October 15, 2010

Interesting, Challenging, and Exciting Time for Education

I had the opportunity to see the documentary film, Waiting for Superman, recently. I want to thank the the staff of the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum for hosting us, and the Austin Film Festival for making the film available to us.

Joining me were a contingent of trustees, principals and other administrators, and community leaders who care deeply about the educational success of Austin children. We attended this screening because we want to improve outcomes for children and families in Austin. We are fortunate to be a community in which people — even those who don't have children in AISD — care about, and in fact demand, quality education for all students.

AISD has a track record in educational innovations, management reforms, and remarkable staff and student accomplishments — and Austin was recently recognized by the Fordham Institute as one of the nine most "reform friendly" cities in the nation for education. Given this, we still have challenges in providing all Austin students with a quality education. AISD made great strides in the last year, and is continuing an aggressive schedule of reform going into this year.

Last year:

  • AISD made gains on virtually every standard on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge & Skills (TAKS) in school year 2009-2010.  Ninety-nine percent of AISD schools passed TAKS, and 95 percent of schools met the federal Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standard. 
  • More than one-third of AISD schools moved up one or two levels in the State Accountability Ratings, and 62 percent of schools were rated Exemplary or Recognized under the state system. 
  • There are no new Academically Unacceptable (AU) schools for the new school year.  Seven of the eight AU schools came off the list.
  • In 2010, for the fourth year in a row, Austin students taking the SAT exceeded both state and national overall average scores.  AISD students outscored their counterparts in the state and nation in Math, and in the state, in both Verbal and Writing scores. 
  • Results from the 2009 National Assessment of Education Progress (the nation’s report card), show that AISD ranked either first or second in the nation in fourth and eighth grade Math and Science, and outscored charter schools.
  • Six AISD high schools were among Newsweek's 2010 "America's Best High Schools."
  • Four AISD schools made the Texas Business and Education Coalition’s Honor Roll for 2010.  Of the more than 8,000 Texas public schools, less than four percent received this honor.  
  • AISD leads Texas school districts in the number of National Board Certified teachers for the eighth year in a row. 
  • AISD was the eighth largest Green Power government purchaser in the U.S., and the only school district on the Top 10 list.

And this year, we are pleased to report additional positive developments and accomplishments:

  • In August, Austin was named by the Fordham Institute as one of the nation’s most “reform friendly” cities for education.  This recognition is based upon strong funding venues, quality control metrics, reform, and past and present superintendent leadership.
  • In our first six weeks of school, attendance, districtwide, is up more than two percent.
  • The District’s enrollment is showing an increase of over 800 students compared to last year.
  • AISD was recently awarded a $2.9 million pregnancy prevention grant.
  • And just a few weeks ago, AISD was bolstered by the award of a $62.3 million “Teacher Incentive Fund” grant, the largest in the nation, to expand our Strategic Compensation Program, called AISD REACH, to 43 schools, particularly in East Austin, where our challenges are the greatest.

AISD has also found great success in the implementation of innovative programs, such as the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders, where we have seen some remarkable results in serving some of our highest-needs students. Another highly-successful innovative program is the New Tech School at Akins High School, a Recognized campus, and one of the most advanced models of technology integration within the curriculum. And we are continuously exploring and moving towards new and effective education reform models, such the Austin Achievement Zone, and potentially, the Manchester Bidwell model. 
The District is now at a "tipping point" to lead the nation in providing a high caliber, free public education to our 86,000, diverse student population. 
To those of you who will see this film, I hope that you consider it a starting point for a productive and healthy community conversation about AISD's many strengths, and also the areas in which we must get better. Waiting for Superman does make an important point — that our children, no matter where we live or go to school — are depending on us adults to do our best for them.