Ray Owens: ImpactTulsa movement working to close achievement gap
High-quality education is essential to sustaining vital cities. In order to grow a well-trained workforce prepared to staff our corporations, grow small businesses and manage our public sector, we must make significant investments in education.
In this regard, Tulsa offers some notable assets. One of those strengths is the excellent work that established our city as a model for early childhood education. Many of our smallest learners are getting a tremendous start to schooling because of the free access to a year of high-quality prekindergarten for every 4-year-old in our state.
In Tulsa, early education options such as Educare and CAP preschool programs are leading the nation in implementing proven strategies for educating small children: adequate funding, balanced student-teacher ratio and qualified teachers.
Tulsa and our surrounding suburbs are home to many high-performing private and public schools. The private school industry offers both parochial and nonparochial schools that deliver rigorous educational experiences for those who can afford them. Even in the public school sector there are some free educational gems, such as Eisenhower Elementary School, which features a full-immersion foreign language experience and the nationally recognized magnet high school Booker T. Washington, which boasts extensive Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses.
The challenge that we face, however, is scaling our high-quality learning opportunities to meet the needs of all children, especially kids from low-income families.
Tulsa, like other cities in our nation, is plagued by a perplexing achievement gap between the educational outcomes of wealthy students and poor students and that of white students relative to students of color. While we’ve made some impressive gains in shrinking this gap in the realm of early childhood education, much more is needed to advance the needle in our K-12 education efforts.
The good news is that there are some promising prospects currently in motion. In the spring of 2014, Tulsa leaders from diverse sectors of our city launched ImpactTulsa, a movement that is working to guarantee all students a high-quality education. What is especially promising about this effort is its focus on aligning the collective resources of our city to maximize the impact of our efforts on student outcomes. In this approach, our fiscal and human capital are strategically directed toward those practices that have proven effective in comparable contexts.
While the work of ImpactTulsa is more of a marathon race than it is a sprint, its strategy moves us in the desired direction. In the short term, Impact Tulsa has outlined some ambitious but achievable goals. By 2019 we envision:
• 10 percent increase in third-grade reading proficiency.
• 10 percent increase in on-time high school graduation rate.
• 12 percent increase in post-secondary entry.
If we can make these kinds of gains over the next few years and build on them in the decades to come, Tulsa can be the first city in our nation to actually close the achievement gap.
The power and potential of the ImpactTulsa work lies in the fact that a diverse constellation of stakeholders are working collaboratively to push this agenda. There are parents, educators, superintendents, philanthropists, business leaders and more, all working collectively to impact our students’ performance.
Tulsa is positioned once again to lead the way in advancing educational opportunities for all students. What we have witnessed in early childhood education we can achieve in K-12 education.
If we have the will, we will find the way.