Education News

HISD To Begin Ambitious Study On Districtwide Inequity

The goal is for the equity project to guide critical decisions for HISD administrators and the school board.

Chris Paul | Houston Public Media
Students gather for a lesson at Neff Early Learning Center in 2019.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic laid bare many gaps in opportunity in Texas public schools, Houston school leaders wanted to get a better handle on the inequities in the state’s largest school system.

So, in early 2020, some school leaders approached a team of researchers at the Houston Education Research Consortium, or HERC, at Rice University. The Houston Independent School District has had a relationship with the center, where researchers delve into topics in partnership with HISD, for over five years.

But the new study, dubbed the equity project, tackles the issue on a much broader scale — and the pandemic has broadened it even more, according to Erin Baumgartner, an associate director at the consortium who’s leading the project.

“The way we’re defining equity is that we’re ensuring all students have access to the resources, supports and opportunities they need to achieve success in school, career and life,” Baumgartner said. “It’s not just about making sure students have the same access across the board. It’s making sure they have the access that they need.”

The team of 30 researchers will examine questions including who among HISD’s 209,000 students have access to gifted and talented programs, and which schools have more experienced principals. And they’ll tackle new questions related to COVID-19, including how well students are prepared for the new school year, and how the pandemic changed graduating seniors’ plans.

The goal is for the project to guide critical decisions for HISD administrators and the school board. Results are expected to roll out in multiple reports over the course of the new school year, with the study completed in the summer of 2021.

“Conducting a districtwide study on educational equity — at this scale — is remarkable, and truly unprecedented in many ways,” HISD Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan wrote in a prepared statement. “We know that for some of our students, simply having equal access to opportunities and resources may not be enough of the support they need to achieve their greatest academic potential. This study will inform critical decision-making relating to equity and closing achievement gaps across the city.”

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