Initiative Seeks to Bring Together the Puzzle Pieces for Improving Tulsa Schools

By: Rebecca Hollis, Oklahoma Policy Institute

With over 300 early childhood education providers, fifteen independent school districts, ten four-year colleges, one community college, and more than one hundred education-related nonprofits in the greater Tulsa area, the task of educating students involves a huge number of individuals and institutions. Yet for all these efforts, we don’t have a good idea of who is doing what, or what programs are showing the best results. This disconnect is what Jeff Edmonson, Managing Director of the StriveTogether Network, has called “program rich but system poor.” To ensure students have access to quality education at all levels of their academic career, all of the pieces of this puzzle must come together.
A group in Tulsa has recently launched an initiative that seeks to coordinate efforts to improve schools and student achievement, while also compiling education outcome data to ensure that reforms achieve the desired outcomes. This initiative is directed by the StriveTogether Network and is locally named IMPACT!Tulsa. According to Monroe Nichols, the Chief Operating Officer at IMPACT!Tulsa, the initiative works to “get a finger on the pulse of education in Tulsa.” This post examines what IMPACT!Tulsa is doing to bring community partners together and ensure that both money and human capital are well-spent in the education sector.

What is StriveTogether?

Strive Together Network Members

StriveTogether is a national network with campaigns in at least 26 states. Its mission is to create a cohesive network of educators, non-profits, businesses, and others in the community involved in education issues, to set clear goals for education outcomes, and to evaluate progress toward these goals using targeted data metrics. The network’s big-picture goal is to ensure continuous support for children from “cradle to career.” The initiative seeks to identify what is producing positive educational results for children, how to improve and expand upon the currently existing efforts, and how to effectively allocate resources to ensure the greatest impact for each student. StriveTogether’s national network includes forty-nine campaigns, which have implemented the initiative in their cities. The first StriveTogether partnership began in the greater Cincinnati area in 2006 and touts impressive academic results since its inception. Although each network looks different depending on the existing education infrastructure, they all consider six key benchmarks: Kindergarten Readiness, Early Grade Reading, Middle Grade Math, High School Graduation, Post-Secondary Enrollment, and Post-Secondary Degree Completion.

Who is IMPACT!Tulsa?

IMPACT!Tulsa began with strong support from the Schusterman Family Foundation. The initiative brought together a 26-person leadership council, with members representing education, non-profit, philanthropic, business, civic, faith-based, and community organizations. The initiative has hired five staffers, led by former Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor as CEO. Funding is coming from the Schusterman Family Foundation, The Tulsa Area United Way, The Tulsa Chamber, and the Tulsa Community Foundation.

What is IMPACT!Tulsa doing now?

An integral part of StriveTogether initiatives is a data-driven approach to education reform. IMPACT!Tulsa is in the process of collecting and synthesizing education data from the fifteen school districts in Tulsa. This data will culminate in the release of a Community Impact Report on October 21, 2014. This report will seek to demonstrate where Tulsa education is strong and also where improvements are needed. A main challenge to data collection is consistent measurement standards. StriveTogether’s Project Manager, Derrick Braziel, said the recent repeal of Common Core in Oklahoma could make it more challenging to find consistent measurement standards for future data collection. Furthermore, access can also be an issue. Some data may contain holes, may be confidential, have restricted access, or may not exist. As they prepare for the release of the Community Impact Report in October, Impact!Tulsa will seek to broaden its support, going beyond the education sector to include non-profits, education leaders, political figures, businesses, and community members. According to David Welch, Communication Director for IMPACT!Tulsa,

“It is going to take a new way of working together. A way that necessitates cross-sector collaboration.”

What can we expect?

While IMPACT!Tulsa is still in its beginning stages, the results of many national StriveTogether initiatives can give us a preview of the possibilities in Tulsa. In the greater Cincinnati area, the Strive Partnership produced a 9 percent increase in kindergarten readiness, an 11 percent increase in high school graduation rates, and a 10 percent increase in college enrollment over five years. The StrivePartnership improved all levels of education in the Cincinnati community, improving 40 educational outcomes in five years. In Boston, third grade reading proficiency increased by 6 percent in one year after previous years of stagnant scores. These results are not isolated. StriveTogether initiatives nationwide tout increases in kindergarten readiness, increased academic achievement at all levels of education, higher college enrollment, and improved college graduation rates. According to the Director of Strategic Assistance for StriveTogether, Colin Groth,

“Tulsa has all of the necessary resources and committed leaders to make it happen. IMPACT!Tulsa has the potential to become a shining star and national example of a successful StriveTogether partnership.”

What does this mean for Oklahoma?

After the successful implementation of a StriveTogether partnership in one city, often initiatives begin in other cities around the state. If successful, IMPACT!Tulsa could especially serve as a model for Oklahoma City. Both Tulsa and Oklahoma City include multiple school districts that serve large numbers of students, many of whom are considered at-risk or low-income students. The initiatives’ goal to create greater access to quality education for all students would greatly benefit the education system in Oklahoma City. However, the model isn’t only for large districts. Since the initiative improves all education benchmarks and conforms to a city’s existing education infrastructure, implementation can occur in cities that may not have a large or urban education system. With careful attention to the Tulsa implementation, there is the possibility that IMPACT!Tulsa could be the stimulus for methodically improving academic outcomes throughout the state.


Rebecca Hollis
Rebecca Hollis, Oklahoma Policy Insitute

Originally posted July 21,2014. Reposted by permission. This post is by Rebecca Hollis, who is working with OK Policy during the summer as a Southern Education Leadership Initiative Fellow. Rebecca attends Xavier University in Cincinnati, OH and is part of the Philosophy, Politics, and the Public Honors Program. She previously contributed a post about community schools in Oklahoma.