Naked City

Lands' Plans for AISD

On behalf of the Eastside Social Action Coalition, Rev. Sterling Lands penned another letter to the Austin Independent School District's Board of Trustees on March 11, this time asking the board to take specific action to increase academic rigor throughout the district's curriculum. As in other letters they've written since October 2000, ESAC reiterates that the district is failing to educate minority students. ESAC "is appealing to the AISD elected officials to take immediate action to raise the academic standard for all students," Lands wrote. "The challenges facing these schools require more than just promises."

In its letter, the ESAC offers a series of 15 curriculum-based recommendations for the board to act on, including raising standards for both reading and math at least one step past grade level -- i.e., a first grader would be capable of doing second grade math. Further, the group asks that more rigorous, "researched based curriculum" be adopted district-wide. Lands said he based the recommendations on his own extensive research and on consultations with noted experts such as Bush education advisor Sandy Kress, who was instrumental in pushing the No Child Left Behind Act in Congress. (Bush signed the Act into law Jan. 8.) As of press time, Kress could not be reached for comment. "We arrived at the conclusion that those [academic programs] are the best programs," Lands said of ESAC's curriculum recommendations, "and we have had validations that those are the best."

Board President Kathy Rider said Tuesday that she had not yet had an opportunity to review the letter, but knows that ESAC has been frustrated by what seems like a slow process. Within the month, she added, AISD Superintendent Pat Forgione is expected to present the board with a plan to close the district's minority student achievement gap. "I don't know what his plan is, but he's been directed to come back with one," she said. Rider believes Forgione's plan will address ESAC's concerns.

Meanwhile, Lands said the ESAC's letter has generated a fair amount of feedback from educators across the district who have indicated that several of the programs ESAC recommends have been implemented in some schools and grade levels within AISD, but have not been adopted as standards for the whole district. "But if you want to make a difference, you have to have a more organized, structured approach," Lands said. "We can't expect all students to reach a higher level of achievement without rigorous curriculum."

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