Schools in a high-poverty Oklahoma district have attracted national attention for pursuing new models of education. Ed Lab’s occasional feature “What We’re Reading” takes a look.
The state of Oklahoma, famously frugal when it comes to funding public education, turns out to be a Petri dish for testing the cost-benefit outcomes of many well-intentioned efforts to improve schools.
This edition of “What We’re Reading” focuses on a piece that ran in last Sunday’s New York Times, and examines a portion of the Sooner State that Education Lab visited in 2014.
We went to Tulsa to check into the effects of universal preschool — standard practice there for nearly 20 years — just as Seattle was planning to pilot a similar program. And while the effort has endured some budgetary bumps, lawmakers have mostly accepted research, generated by their own students’ results, that shows one year of high-quality early learning can result in a nine-month boost to literacy skills and four months’ head start in math.
With that success as background, The Times’ piece described another Tulsa-area effort that has received fledgling attention in Seattle: community schools. The somewhat pedestrian name disguises a head-to-toe overhaul of the role public school buildings should play in their neighborhoods.
In the Union Public Schools district, which includes part of Tulsa, these schools are much more than collections of 8-a.m.-to-3-p.m. classrooms. They’re closer to full-service community centers, offering early-morning and late-afternoon child care for parents who work odd hours, family health clinics, access to job training, food pantries and clothing banks. They also provide day care for teenage moms.
The Times quoted a former superintendent saying that educators had finally realized “focusing entirely on academics wasn’t enough, especially for poor kids.”
Results appear to bear this out.
Graduation rates in Union, which is mostly low-income, were at 88.3 percent last spring — about 14 points higher than in 2007, when the district began this effort, and at least 5 points above the national average.
All this in a state that has cut education spending each of the past three years and now spends $7,605 annually per student. (Washington shells out 41 percent more, about $10,747.)
The idea of community schools has been floated in Seattle, and it’s happening at Roxhill Elementary, which offers dental services for kids, English-language classes for parents and a host of before-and-after-school programs.
But Roxhill’s 5-year-old program is still in its infancy compared with the schools in Oklahoma. Union, for example, has been working on its model since 2004. In other words, it takes time to get traction.
“None of this happened overnight,” the former superintendent is quoted as saying. “The model was organic — it grew because it was the right thing to do.”