Austin, TX, Magnet Programs Excluding Black and Hispanic Students While Affluent Whites Flourish

Photo by Austin American Statesman.

Photo by Austin American Statesman.

In three of four magnet programs in underserved or poor Austin, TX, neighborhoods—where Hispanics make up 60 percent of the student population—white youths from affluent families assume most of the prime classroom seats.

Data indicates fewer than a quarter of the students in the magnet programs are Hispanic, while Latinos make up 60 percent of the district’s student body, according to the American-Statesman. Significantly, Black students from low-income families made up just 1 percent in two of the schools.

Parents have been upset by about the blatant disparity, and the data justifies their concerns. The stronger academic programs should be more accessible to a wider, more diverse group of students, they contend.

Officials in the districts say they are addressing the situation.

Although housed by the LBJ High School that serves mostly Black and Hispanic students in low-income areas, the nationally recognized Liberal Arts and Science Academy comes up short in diversity.

For the past five years, the data shows, the percentage of Black, Hispanic and low-income students attending LASA has been declining. Fewer than 2 percent of the students attending LASA are Black, about 21 percent are Hispanic and fewer than 12 percent are low-income.

By contrast, 8 percent of the district’s overall student population is Black and 60 percent are low-income.

The two schools are on separate floors — LASA upstairs and LBJ downstairs — and the obvious differences are hard to be missed by anyone who visits the campus. After all, 96 percent of LBJ’s students—nearly all Hispanic or Black—have struggled academically for years. Meanwhile, LASA students often draw the attention of the nation’s top-tier colleges.

“In a society that says they value diversity, we see in the AP classes and magnet programs there isn’t that diversity, at least not that’s reflected in the city or the communities where these magnet programs exist,” Kazique Prince, a consultant in cultural competency programs who ran for the school board last year, told the American Statesman. “I definitely see them as valuable, but in their current form they aren’t serving as many people of diverse backgrounds as possible.”

Interim schools chief Edumund Oropez said, “It’s an issue. We see the numbers, too, and there is underrepresentation.”

The district does not track a student’s ethnicity or economic status on magnet applications, which include grades, scores on state-mandated tests, student essays, letters of recommendation from teachers, and entrance exams conducted on Saturdays. If they apply to multiple programs, the students must repeat a separate process for each.

Some schools, particularly those that serve middle-class and affluent students, are known to assist students in their magnet applications.

How is the district trying to change matters? Oropez said the district has started workshops to assist families applying to LASA and it began efforts to recruit minority teachers and administrators to help attract minority students. 

“We’re trying to put things in place that can change that,” he said. “We just don’t want any kids locked out.”

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