Tulsa students left behind

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Tulsa Chiggers has some analysis of the report that dozens of schools in Tulsa have made the federal "needs improvement" list. 38 schools within the Tulsa district are on the list, including seven of Tulsa Public Schools' nine high schools made the list, and an eighth high school (Memorial) is likely to make the list next year. If your child's school is on the "needs improvement" list, the school district is required to offer you the choice to transfer your child to any other school in the district, but that isn't much of a choice if nearly every other school in the district is on the same list.

The entry on Tulsa Chiggers has links to the report for Tulsa Public Schools. The gateway to reports for every district in Oklahoma is here.

"Red Bug" writes that it's time to drain the swamp at Tulsa Public Schools. It's my impression that TPS, still the largest single district in the state, is bound up in bureaucracy and too ready to adopt the latest educratic fad. The board seems to believe that its job is to act as cheerleaders for the administration, rather than as watchdogs. The students of the district would benefit from more charter school opportunities, but the district administration and board have resisted charter schools every step of the way.

To get a flavor for TPS's current educational philosophy, read this entry from October 2003, in which a TPS French teacher explains to a parent why, a month into the school year, the class has not yet learned any actual French. Of the teacher's email, I wrote: "This isn't the raving of some rogue teacher, imposing her own nutty ideas on her defenseless pupils, but a teacher trying to do what her school district has trained and instructed her to do. This is the 'Tulsa Model for School Improvement.'"

TPS is a significant obstacle to new development in north, west, and east Tulsa, and it's an obstacle to keeping families with children in midtown. If our city leaders are concerned about maintaining and growing the tax base in the City of Tulsa, they should work with our state legislators to expand school choice for children in the Tulsa district. The rest of us, the voters in the Tulsa district, need to start recruiting and preparing candidates to run for school board, candidates who will advocate for charter schools and for traditional, successful approaches to teaching. The filing period is in December.

In the meantime, keep an eye on Tulsa Chiggers for coverage of Tulsa Public Schools.


Dan Paden said:

Government education/indoctrination is flawed conceptually. Ain't no fixin' it.

tpsteacher said:

As a TPS teacher, I DO feel that we are under quite a bit of pressure, and don't get to JUST TEACH. However, I have to tell you that it isn't the Tulsa Model that's causing the majority of our problems.

Part of the problem is the No Child Left Behind legislation, which puts such unrealistic demands upon schools that there is nearly no honest way to stay off "the list." One of those demands is 95% attendance. Especially for high schools, this is highly unrealistic. If you check the factors which are considered when calculating AYP (Average Yearly Progress), you will find that this is where most high schools fall short of expectations.

I can guarantee you that is the driving force behind the change in school start times this year. The thinking is that if we can start high school later, more students will come to school. So many of them work jobs until 10 p.m. or later, and have trouble getting up early to be at school. Without mom and dad to drag them out of bed like they did before Junior had his own car, the attendance percentage drops.

Another word about AYP: it's a percentage of improvement over the year before which must be met by each school in order to not be considered "needing improvement." If you score WELL one year, you're sunk the next year...unless you somehow produce a minor miracle and do BETTER...SIGNIFICANTLY BETTER.

I have to point out that there is newer data than that to which you've linked us, and the status of many schools has changed, often for the better.

As the largest school district in Oklahoma, TPS represents the largest range of diversity in student population. It is to be expected that they will not score the same as other, smaller, less diverse districts with fewer variables in play.

There are many factors which determine success in school: parent involvement, early childhood education (whether in a school setting or at home), economic status, attendance in class, mobility of students...just to name a few. The current methods of evaluating schools and districts do not take these into account. They register some of them on their graphs, but that's about the extent of it.

Another flaw in determining AYP is that it doesn't compare apples to apples. The scores of the 2003-2004 3rd, 5th, and 8th grade students will be compared with the scores of the 2004-2005 3rd, 5th, and 8th grade students. If every child were a robot, and every class were identical, this might be a good method of determining progress.

It is ridiculous to think that the students are receiving an IDENTICAL upbringing, identical home lives, and a cookie-cutter education not tailored to their needs...what kind of teachers would we be?? Rotten, I can tell you. Every child is an individual. Every class is unique, with its own abilities and struggles. It's ridiculous to measure this way.

The demands put upon schools by the federal government are to blame. These unreasonable goals are making it so that schools have to gear their instruction toward teaching "to the test" and not teaching for the sake of children learning. THIS is what is making things so difficult in schools...not the Tulsa Model for School Improvement.

The Tulsa Model does little more than help students to have a better connection to what is being taught. As a teacher, I have to admit to balking at this initially, because it requires more planning and thinking about students on my part...I can't just say, "Well, I've put the material out there, either you 'get it' or you don't." We are asked to plan for students to use higher-level thinking and responses, to make students responsible for their own learning, and provide them with more real-world opportunities to learn.

I would second your statement about the school board. Know that the members aren't appointed for life...that they come up for re-election over and over, and no one shows up to vote for someone new. I hope you'll keep on top of the school board race, perhaps suggest and nominate candidates to replace those who are little more than "yes men."

Please, however, do not go throwing out the baby with the swamp water. There's a lot going RIGHT in TPS, as well. There's nothing wrong with standards for improvement...but teachers and students need the support of principals, parents, administrators at the district level, and the community at large. Go to your neighborhood school, sit in on a lesson, and see what YOU think. Please don't base your opinion of a district solely on an instrument for assessment which is as VERY FLAWED as the NCLB standards and the report of AYP.

red bug said:

The API index was developed by the Oklahoma State Department of Education as a result of the "No Child Left Behind Act". It is a formula that takes into account several variables like test scores, attendance, graduation rates, advanced placement classes, etc. The point is that it is a standard developed for all schools in Oklahoma to be measured against. There is no doubt that differences exist between schools. Just in the TPS district alone we have some of the top 10 schools in Oklahoma and we have some of the worst 10 schools in Oklahoma. How's that for diversity? Where is the fairness in that? How come TPS touts that it is the district of choice when Tulsa high schoolers have no school to transfer to?

I sympathize with TPS teachers. They are not the problem. They inherit all the problems inherent in our society. They are overburdened with rules, laws and regulations that take too much time away from their job of teaching. The result is that all Tulsans lose.

My view is broader than looking at individual schools. Its a cop-out to attack the standard as "flawed" and ignore the bigger problems. Do citizens not have the right to expect their schools will perform at a level equal to or greater than other schools in the state?

And there may be more current information available on the API, but my source was the Oklahoma State Department of Education website.

TPS has proved it is not capable of true reform. True reform will have to be imposed upon it from a higher authority. The Oklahoma Charter Schools Act was a good first step, but even that law is weak. With only TPS as a potential sponsor, its like a "shotgun wedding". It's the fox guarding the henhouse all over again. Dr. Sawyer will not support any new charter schools in Tulsa. That needs to change.

Take the time to see how Tulsa's three charter schools did as compared to the other schools in the district. They all are doing a fantastic job.

If you really want to see reform, support the idea of educational vouchers. Talk to your elected officials and tell them you want to see that happen.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on August 16, 2005 1:57 PM.

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