Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
In Friday morning’s state of the district address, San Antonio Independent School District Superintendent Pedro Martinez didn’t skirt the challenges his students face.
Speaking to an audience of more than 300 business, political, educational, and nonprofit leaders, Martinez illustrated with graphs and charts the education gaps that exist due to San Antonio ISD’s historically poor population. The Texas Education Agency reports that more than 92 percent of SAISD’s 53,000 students qualify as economically disadvantaged.
Martinez broke down his district’s population further, dividing students into quartiles based on income. He then showed the chances of a student obtaining a post-secondary degree – which includes associate degrees – based on socioeconomic background.
In 1970, 46 percent of students in the lowest income group graduated college. That same year, 79 percent of students in the highest bracket obtained a degree, according to national data from the Pell Institute.
“The good news is that gap has started closing,” Martinez said as he showed more recent results, with 62 percent of the lowest income group graduating college in 2015.
A divide emerges, however, when only considering four-year degrees. The lowest income groupings are far less likely to obtain a bachelor’s degree over six years than those in the highest income groupings. In 2015, only 9 percent of students in the poorest group earned a bachelor’s degree compared to the 77 percent of students in the highest income bracket.
“The gap has never been wider,” Martinez said.
The superintendent then showed a pie chart that illustrated 65 percent of district students qualifying under the poorest quadrant, with a household income below $34,160. One-third of students ranked in the second poorest category, with a family income of less than $63,600. Two percent fell into the second wealthiest category with an income below $108,650. Zero percent were in the top quartile.
Some students did qualify for the top income category, Martinez said, but the number wasn’t significant enough to round to a single percentage point.
The combined student bodies of Harlandale, Edgewood, South San Antonio, and San Antonio ISDs make up 82 percent of the poorest students in Bexar County, Martinez said.
“A child that is born on the Westside, in 78207, which is my highest poverty zip code … their probability of graduating from university is under 10 percent,” Martinez said. “Just from being born in that zip code.”
Martinez showed a map that pinpointed by census block the highest rates of poverty in SAISD and Bexar County. The map glowed red at its center, in San Antonio’s urban core, to signify the highest poverty areas. Green areas, with greater wealth, filled the majority of Northside ISD and North East ISD’s boundaries to the north and Southwest ISD and East Central ISD to the south and east.
Martinez also drew a connection between failing schools and economically disadvantaged students. In 2017, 91 percent, or 336 of the 371 schools in Texas with failing marks from the TEA serve populations with more than 60 percent economically disadvantaged children.
“With the new standards and changes in the accountability system, easily, this number will at least double or triple statewide,” Martinez said, forecasting that the relationship between high enrollment of impoverished students and failing schools will only heighten.
To combat the tough circumstances and trends SAISD students face, Martinez said the district has been working with “some amazing partners.”
He listed collaborations in place at the Advanced Learning Academy, Steele Montessori, and CAST Tech as examples. Martinez said these schools have been so successful that at one time were 7,000 out of district applications for 3,000 spots.
More partnerships are underway with charter negotiations in the works.
“The work is about changing these data points because it is not fair to tell a child that based on where you are born, for no other reason – just being born into that community, into that family, into that income situation – that this is your probability of graduating college,” he said.
The district continues to explore options to prepare students for post-graduation pathways, but Martinez said the district would encourage students to pursue four-year degrees.
In the past two years, SAISD has increased the number of students tested for the SAT and ACT, two exams that are essential in the path forward to college. In 2015, SAISD tested a little more than 68 percent of all students, with 5 percent testing at or above the criterion score. In 2017, 90 percent of students tested, with 9 percent scoring at or above criterion.
From 2015 to 2017, SAISD has also increased its number of graduates enrolling in a college or university from 50 to 54 percent. Three percent of these students in 2015 enrolled in Tier One college or universities. Martinez said this number has increased to 7 percent in 2017.
By 2020, the superintendent hopes to see the overall college-enrollment rate increase to 80 percent, with half attending a four-year university. Martinez called this goal “aggressive.”
To get there, he said the district is taking intentional steps to prepare students for their futures.
“We are exposing more of our children to eighth-grade algebra, ninth-grade English in eighth grade; we’re exposing them to more [Advanced Placement] and [International Baccalaureate]; we’re getting them ready to take the SAT and ACT; we’re getting them past the [remedial college coursework], while we’re graduating them and getting them into college,” he said. “That is who we are folks.”
To download Martinez’s presentation, click here.