Initiative seeks to bring together the puzzle pieces for improving Tulsa schools

by | July 21st, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (0)
Rebecca Hollis

Rebecca Hollis

This post is by Rebecca Hollis, who is working with OK Policy during the summer as a Southern Education Leadership Initiative Fellow. Rebecca attends Xavier University in Cincinnati, OH and is part of the Philosophy, Politics, and the Public Honors Program. She previously contributed a post about community schools in Oklahoma

With over 300 early childhood education providers, fifteen independent school districts, ten four-year colleges, one community college, and more than one hundred education-related nonprofits in the greater Tulsa area, the task of educating students involves a huge number of individuals and institutions. Yet for all these efforts, we don’t have a good idea of who is doing what, or what programs are showing the best results. This disconnect is what Jeff Edmonson, Managing Director of the StriveTogether Network, has called “program rich but system poor.” To ensure students have access to quality education at all levels of their academic career, all of the pieces of this puzzle must come together.

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Providing essential resources to schools without the financial burden (Guest post: Sarah Julian)

by | July 10th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (0)

Sarah Julian is the Director of Communications for the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center (OPSRC). On July 16, the OPSRC is hosting an open house for anyone who is interested in learning more about the organization. You can register at http://nwea.us/OkieEdOPSRC.

opsrcIt’s news to no one that our public schools face enormous challenges in virtually every area of operations, including finances.  Oklahoma education funding is among the lowest in the nation and yet mandates remain, leaving schools without the proper resources to support them. 

Smaller schools and districts feel this more intensely, as they don’t often have the funding to support full-time staff in key areas of administration and support services for teachers and students. Because of this, we often see school staff juggling multiple roles to the point where it affects instruction, burnout becomes widespread, and ultimately, students suffer. 

 This is where the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center (OPSRC) comes in.  OPSRC was created as a non-profit center with the goal of supporting small schools—both rural and public charters—across the state in several key areas: finance, legal, technology, communications, teaching & learning, and educational policy.

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Why tracking school readiness matters (Guest Post: Krista Schumacher & Naneida Lazarte Alcalá)

by | July 1st, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Education, Poverty | Comments (1)

risk and reach report coverNaneida Lazarte Alcalá is a Research Manager with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. She holds a Ph.D. in Economics from Oklahoma State University. Krista Schumacher is a Senior Researcher with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. She is working on a Ph.D. in Educational Research and Evaluation from Oklahoma State University. Both are members of Scholars Strategy Network.

Considerable research points to the dire consequences of starting school unprepared to learn. A combination of experiences and environments from the moment of birth shape a child’s likelihood of entering school developmentally ready and succeeding in the long term. Circumstances such as poverty, low maternal education, single-parent families, limited English skills, and abuse and neglect place children at extreme risk of starting kindergarten without the appropriate cognitive, social-emotional and behavioral skills necessary for learning.

Too often the burden of bridging the developmental gap between where children should be and where they actually are is placed squarely on schools. However, studies using data from the Kids Integrated Data System, which matches data on individual children across the Philadelphia school district with the city’s human services, health, and housing agencies, found that differences in student performance between schools was attributable more to the concentration of adverse early experiences among children than to school resources. Although school quality matters in terms of student supports that can be provided, schools cannot be held accountable for the skills, or lack thereof, children possess when they first enter a kindergarten classroom. This is a problem that must be addressed at the societal level.

continue reading Why tracking school readiness matters (Guest Post: Krista Schumacher & Naneida Lazarte Alcalá)

Schools alone can’t overcome poverty. They need a community.

by | June 25th, 2014 | Posted in Education, Poverty | Comments (0)
Rebecca Hollis

Rebecca Hollis

This post is by Rebecca Hollis, who is working with OK Policy during the summer as a Southern Education Leadership Initiative Fellow. Rebecca attends Xavier University in Cincinnati, OH and is part of the Philosophy, Politics, and the Public Honors Program.

Improving educational outcomes for children living in poverty is one of the most difficult and important tasks that Oklahoma faces. The future of these children is the future of our whole state. The poverty rate has grown to the point that today nearly 1 in 4 Oklahoma children are living in poverty, and a recent study by The Southern Education Foundation indicates that low-income students (those who qualify for free or reduced lunches) are now the majority across the South. In 2011, 60.6 percent of Oklahoma’s students were considered low-income, and this number continues to grow.

The difficulty of educating children in poverty stems from the issues they face outside of the classroom. The poorest students may suffer from food insecurity.They may be exposed to air pollution and toxic levels of lead.They may experience violent crime or have a parent who is incarcerated. They may frequently change schools without a stable residence. The list goes on.

That’s why the typical school models are not enough. We need a whole community to meet the needs of the whole child.The community school model is a cost-effective, national reform strategy that seeks to do just that. In Oklahoma and other states, this model is producing impressive academic results such as increased enrollment, improved graduation rates, and higher test scores.

continue reading Schools alone can’t overcome poverty. They need a community.

Inappropriate appropriations and a broken promise

by | June 11th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Education | Comments (4)

cookie jarIn building next year’s budget, legislative leaders and Governor Mary Fallin faced the challenge of starting with nearly $200 million less revenue than this year. Ultimately, the FY 2015 budget ended up at nearly the same amount as this year. In order to get the numbers to balance, the budget agreement scrounged together nearly $300 million in one-time revenue from nearly 30 different funds, including cash reserves, agency revolving funds and other state funds (see the full list here).

The use of one-time revenues to fund ongoing budgetary obligations has drawn concern from OK Policy, Treasurer Ken Miller, and others, particularly for building automatic holes into future year budgets. There has been less attention paid to whether the use of these one-time revenues for general appropriations was legal or constitutional.

One especially problematic provision of the budget  has gone largely undetected until now — the diversion of nearly $8 million from the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program (OHLAP), also known as Oklahoma’s Promise scholarships. This diversion could cause a popular pathway to college to run out of money for low- and moderate income students. It also seems to rest on very shaky legal footing.

continue reading Inappropriate appropriations and a broken promise

Read This: The Bluest Eye

the bluest eye

On the state Senate floor in the waning hours of the final day of the 2014 legislative session, Sen. Josh Brecheen (R-Coalgate) read a passage from Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye as part of his effort to derail Common Core in Oklahoma. Ignoring that Common Core doesn’t require any schools to read The Bluest Eye (the books listed are suggestions), Sen. Brecheen’s use of The Bluest Eye indicates not only fundamental misunderstanding of the work but also precisely why Oklahomans ought to read it. Its frank portrayal of poverty, misogyny, and racism, still all too common in Oklahoma, helps readers to empathize with those affected by oppression. By giving them the tools to understand the world around them, The Bluest Eye equips readers to change that world.

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Common Core repeal could put Oklahoma schools under more federal control

by | June 3rd, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (0)

275px-No_Child_Left_Behind_ActWith the legislative session now adjourned, attention shifts to Governor Mary Fallin, who has 15 days from the day bills reach her desk to sign or veto legislation (she can also exercise a ‘pocket veto‘ by taking no action on a bill).  Her toughest decision, and the one generating the most attention, is over HB 3399, the bill aiming to repeal Common Core standards. While there is much at stake for Oklahoma’s education system in the bill, one of the most serious consequences is that Oklahoma could lost its waiver exempting the state from parts of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is the federal education bill passed by Congress in 2001 that requires schools show Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP)* in student performance on standardized tests.  Schools that failed to meet AYP goals were subject to various improvement measures and sanctions. By 2014, every child in 3rd through 8th grade was expected to be testing on grade level in reading and math.

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New school meals program can help kids in poverty

by | May 21st, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Education, Poverty | Comments (0)

healthy_lunchOklahoma is a hungry state. A 2011 study ranked Oklahoma 15th nationwide for food insecurity; one in six Oklahomans lacks consistent access to adequate food. And food insecurity is higher for children than adults: one in four children was food-insecure in the same time period. The impacts of childhood hunger are significant and lasting, from lasting physical and mental health problems to difficulty focusing and interacting with peers. 

Meals in schools are one way of helping food-insecure students have access to nutritious food on a regular basis. Free and reduced lunch programs help schools identify students in need and provide them with affordable meals, and the USDA reimburses schools in turn. However, a new meals program may provide high-poverty schools a better mechanism for fighting hunger while reducing costs.

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Governor should sign bill easing third-grade retention mandate

by | May 16th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (0)

student2On May 9th, the State Department of Education announced that 7,970 third graders, or 16.4 percent of Oklahoma’s third grade population, scored unsatisfactory on the state’s standardized 3rd grade reading test, the OCCT. These children and their families will be anxiously waiting this week for word on what Governor Mary Fallin decides to do with HB 2625, the bill that would ease mandatory retention requirements for third-grade students who fail the OCCT.

Under current law, the Reading Sufficiency Act provides that, beginning this year, students who score unsatisfactory on the OCCT must be retained in 3rd grade unless they qualify for a ‘good cause exemption.’  The main provision of HB 2625 allows a Student Reading Proficiency Team, including a student’s parents, teachers and principal, to grant ‘probationary promotion’ to a student who scored unsatisfactory and does not otherwise qualify for an exemption. These students would receive intensive remediation and be reviewed annually by the team until the student demonstrates grade-level proficiency. The probationary probation option would expire in 2015-16 (see our discussion here).

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A better way to understand and improve school performance (Guest Post: Ryan Miskell)

by | May 13th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (1)

 Ryan Miskell is an OK Policy Research Fellow and a research associate with the Oklahoma Center for Education Policy. He is working on his Ph.D. in Education Leadership and Policy Studies from The University of Oklahoma.

School-Capacity-620x604

School Capacity matrix developed by the Oklahoma Center for Education Policy http://okedpolicy.org/school-capacity/

Oklahoma, like most states, has been redesigning education policies to match requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver and to improve school performance. Policies like Common Core, the Reading Sufficiency Act, and additional end-of-instruction exams are intended to ensure students are on grade level and prepared for college, careers, and citizenship. The A-F Report Card Grading System is intended to make school performance clear and provide the necessary information to improve schools. Despite these good intentions, these policies have proven divisive and unpopular, so much so that the state legislature has passed, or plans to pass, measures that scale back or revoke these reforms.

continue reading A better way to understand and improve school performance (Guest Post: Ryan Miskell)