AISD Is Hiring an Equity Officer
The new position will promote educational equity and inclusiveness for the district's 80,000-plus students
Austin ISD's leaders all say that equity is an important goal, and the district wants to add to its executive team an equity officer who'll be asked to "promote and sustain educational equity and inclusiveness" for 80,000-plus students, according to AISD's job posting. In a recent interview with the Chronicle, Superintendent Paul Cruz envisioned an office that would first focus on "equitable student outcomes," and then on all aspects of district operations. The equity officer – who will report directly to Cruz – will "set up a plan of action around equity" and "embed those efforts ... into every department's plan and every campus plan," all with the intent of boosting academic outcomes for those who historically have struggled to succeed in AISD schools.
How? Cruz says an important part of the job will be "calling out" programs or policies that have an inequitable impact on different student groups who, as Cruz sees it, may require different support systems to achieve greater success. One program, for instance, may be of great value to English-language learners but have a lesser impact on those with special needs. The officer's role would include assessing classroom environment, school climate, staff development opportunities, and other factors that impact academic success, and suggesting ways for the district to modify those factors to help close achievement gaps.
The results of this year's midyear benchmark exams, administered in December and reported to the Board of Trustees on April 8, suggest the equity officer will have much to do. The exams used questions from last year's STAAR exams, and while district officials stress that the results are an imperfect way to assess performance – students could be asked questions on subject matter they have not yet been taught – the results are dismal. Just 57% of black third-graders passed the reading benchmark, compared to 89% of white students. The disparities only worsen when looking at higher achievement standards: Just 9% of black third-graders got the highest "masters" scores on the STAAR reading exam, while 38% of white students achieved that standard.
Over recent weeks, top district officials have held public meetings to gather community input on what goals the equity officer should have, what power they should wield, and how they should be held accountable. The suggestions have been numerous (at a meeting at Barbara Jordan Elementary, printed lists showed dozens of ideas from various stakeholders), and rolling it all into one staff position may ask too much of one person. Cruz is well aware of that risk: "I won't count on any one individual to achieve equity," he told us. "I count on different constituencies to tell us services students need, and all that work still has to continue. But I feel there's so much more that we can do; we just need someone to call it out."