The Education theme scored 40.44, a decline from last year’s score, but an overall improvement from the 2018 baseline.

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This theme includes indicators spanning education from elementary school to postsecondary. A solid foundation during the elementary and secondary years is crucial for future academic and career success, and postsecondary education or training is essential for accessing employment opportunities that will ensure a sufficient wage.

As with economic success, educational success is not just a matter of hard work and making the right choices. The Child Equity Index, an ongoing research effort led by Tulsa Public Schools and Impact Tulsa, has uncovered a multitude of neighborhood factors that can have either positive or negative impact on student academic outcomes – factors over which children have no control.[1]

The indicators in this theme explore disparities in barriers to and opportunities for educational success and student outcomes.

Note regarding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education data for this report:

The Oklahoma School Report Cards website states that “Accountability-related aspects for the 2019-2020 academic year associated with the Academic Achievement, Academic Growth, Chronic Absenteeism, Postsecondary Opportunities, and English Language Proficiency indicators were suspended through a waiver granted by the U.S. Department of Education (USDE). As a result, data for waived indicators is not available.” Consequently, new data are not available for the 2021 report for indicators 11: Chronic Absenteeism by Race, 14: Postsecondary Opportunities Participation by English Proficiency, and 15: School Report Card Score by Income.

Additionally, regarding the 2020-21 school year third grade state English/Language Arts test results used for Indicator 16, Tulsa Public Schools has stated that due to the suspension of state testing in spring 2020, low testing participation in spring 2021, and the ongoing challenges related to the pandemic, 2020-21 state test results are inconclusive. The district states that the economic disparities that were exacerbated by COVID-19 likely affected student testing outcomes, and recognizes the importance of considering student’s overall  experiences, such as access to grade-level content, attendance, and course grades when evaluating what students learned in the past year. 

[1] ImpactTulsa. 2019. 2019 Community Impact Report.

THE BELOW INTERACTIVE GRAPHS display four years of Tulsa Equality Indicator scores, divided into the three Topics for this Theme, and three Indicators for each Topic. The lines represent each Indicators’ scores for four years, allowing the viewer to observe how each score has changed over time and to compare the scores of different Indicators within a Theme. Hover over the icons to see metadata for that Indicator including its equality score and change score (when available). More on how we measure equality >

Impediments to Learning

For the second year in a row, the Impediments to Learning topic had the greatest improvement in score from baseline of all 18 topics in Tulsa Equality Indicators. This is especially good news as it seems to suggest the breaking down of barriers to equality in educational opportunities. In reality, the data behind the scores reveal that while some progress was made in the disadvantaged groups’ experiences, deteriorating circumstances for the advantaged groups contributed to the score improvements as well. Each of the indicators in this topic involve absence from the learning environment, which naturally hinders a student’s ability to succeed academically.

National research has found correlations associating higher levels of community racial bias with higher levels of African American students being disproportionately perceived as problematic and more harshly disciplined for the same offenses as White students, adding to higher rates of suspension and expulsion.[1]

Absenteeism can be the result of many factors besides physical illness, such as transportation barriers, poor school performance, mental health issues, bullying, lack of interest in school, and family responsibilities. Chronic absenteeism is a predictor of dropping out of school in the future.

Lower income students are about 50% more likely to drop out than are higher income students, which further limits those students’ opportunities to advance into higher income brackets.

[1] Riddle, Travis, and Stacey Sinclair. 2019. “Racial Disparities in School-based Disciplinary Actions are Associated with County-level Rates of Racial Bias.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, April 23, 2019.

Quality & Opportunity

The Quality and Opportunity topic scored 28.00 this year, a three-point decline from the baseline. The indicators in this topic reflect disparities in overall quality of Tulsa students’ learning experiences as measured by reliance on emergency certified teachers, participation in postsecondary opportunities, and the state’s School Report Card scoring system.

While acknowledging the great contributions made by Tulsa’s emergency certified teachers over the past several years to deal with the statewide teacher shortage resulting from persistent lack of funding, research shows that fully trained and experienced classroom teachers cannot be replaced without sacrificing quality.[1] Not only are teachers suffering from inequitable compensation levels, but it is ultimately the students who lose due to less than optimal learning experiences. 

English Learner students are less than half as likely to pursue and complete postsecondary readiness opportunities as their non-English Learner classmates. These opportunities, that include internships, advanced placement courses, concurrent enrollment, and technical training, serve to better prepare students for college or career after high school and give them a robust boost toward accomplishing their goals in that next phase.

Three years ago the State Department of Education developed and implemented a new school and district evaluation system – the Oklahoma School Report Cards – that better captures the many elements that make up schools’ performance. Based on the new system, our analysis finds that lower income schools score significantly lower than do higher income schools.

[1] Fuxa, Robin, Vanessa Anton, Bryan Duke, Stewart Mayers, Elizabeth Smith, and Elizabeth Harden Willner. 2019. “The Value of Comprehensive, University-Based Teacher Education for Oklahoma Children.” Oklahoma Association of Colleges for Teacher Education; The University of Tulsa, Kendall College of Arts and Sciences. 2019. “The Negative Impact of Emergency Teacher Certification in Oklahoma.” August 13, 2019.

Student Achievement

With a 2021 score of 41.67, the Student Achievement topic declined by 6 points from the baseline. This topic includes indicators that measure disparities in outcomes in elementary school, high school and college. The primary driver of this topic’s reduced score is the substantially greater disparity found in 3rd grade reading proficiency 2020-21 school year. This represents one example of the exacerbation of existing disparities resulting from COVID-19. 

Third grade reading proficiency is a crucial achievement as it serves as an important building block for future academic success. Through third grade students are learning to read – after third grade they are reading to learn. What this means is that students need to have acquired by third grade all the basic skills necessary for reading and for progressing as developmentally appropriate to read more challenging materials in later grades. After the third grade, students must be able to read and comprehend grade-level appropriate materials in order to have the opportunity to learn from other subjects. Our analysis shows that higher income third graders are four and a half times more likely to score proficient or advanced on the standardized reading test than lower income third graders – further challenging opportunities to succeed for lower income students.

About three-quarters of Tulsa Public Schools students graduate with their class, compared to just over half of Tulsa’s English Learner students. English Learner students not only face the task of mastering the normal range of subjects but do so with the added challenge of learning in a language that is not their primary one.

Students who do not finish college can experience additional barriers to financial stability, such as incurred debt from tuition and other college expenses, the possible loss of income if employment was ended or reduced to attend college, and reduced earnings. Individuals who don’t complete college typically earn only about 10% more than those with a high school diploma, compared to the 80% more they could earn with a degree.

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