The newest education report from Impact Tulsa, a local advocacy group headed by Kathy Taylor and the Schusterman Foundation, hit the town on Wednesday night.
The report gave an in-depth analysis of academics in the Tulsa area and included speeches from local figures like TPS superintendent Deborah Gist, Jeff Dunn of Mill Creek Lumber and Jonah Edelman, an education advocate and the son of Civil Rights activist Marian Wright Edelman.
The report broke down Oklahoma’s, and more specifically Tulsa’s, failing grades into several sections. These sections included kindergarten preparedness, third grade reading levels and eighth grade algebra enrollment.
John Tapogna, president of economics consulting group EcoNorthwest, presented his and Impact Tulsa’s assessment of pre-kindergarten enrollment compared to academic success later in school.
The group found that last year there were over 40 percent fewer economically disadvantaged students enrolled in a pre-kindergarten program than privileged students.
59 percent of incoming kindergarteners were literate. Of these, 74 percent were white, 37 percent Hispanic and 44 percent African-American. Third-graders of white and non-economically disadvantaged backgrounds scored over 200 points higher than black, Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students in the same year on the Lexile framework, which gages on-level literacy.
The problem is not only in minority and lower-income households. While white students and those from higher-income families do have higher enrollment numbers in upper-level courses in eighth-grade, over half of students in Tulsa are still enrolled in pre-algebra. 32 percent of white students are enrolled in algebra, compared to 18 percent of students of color and 36 percent of low-income students. The problem disproportionately affects those from more disadvantaged backgrounds.
In 2014 the Tulsa area had an 82 percent overall high school graduation rate, which is close to the national average. However, by spring 2015 fewer than half of those students were enrolled in a 4-year degree program, and only 42 percent of 2013’s graduates were still enrolled in college by 2015.
This issue affects everyone. Jonah Edelman, CEO of the education advocacy group Stand for Children, prompted Tulsans to stand up for local education.
The problem, he said, goes much farther than early education, and the solution requires a lot of “sweat equity.”
Schools in Oklahoma suffer from a severe lack of funding. This means a shortage of money to hire teachers, and low pay for those they do hire. According to Oklahoma Watch, a nonprofit analysis group, the starting salary for Tulsa teachers is 32,900 dollars a year, compared to a 33,950 dollar national average. Edelman and Impact Tulsa propose a one cent sales tax raise for next year’s ballot, which would, in theory, allow for a 5,000 dollar raise for Tulsa area teachers.
Jeff Dunn, president of Mill Creek Lumber and chair-elect on the Tulsa Regional Chamber’s Board of Directors, spoke to local businesses’ interest in bettering education. Currently Dunn is looking to fund a Teacher Education scholarship, which would fund scholarships for students granted they teach for the same amount of years they received the scholarship.
The best thing for students to do is to “get involved” in education programs, Dunn said. There are several tutoring and mentor programs for students to help younger kids, including the Tulsa Regional STEM Alliance, where students can tutor children in math and science, and Reading Partners, a program that focuses on improving students’ reading level.
To volunteer with the Tulsa Regional STEM Alliance’s math and science mentorship programs, call 918-863-8700 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. To get involved with Reading Partners, sign up to volunteer at www.readingpartners.org/volunteer.