ImpactTulsa a New Effort to Focus on Common, Regional K-12 Education Goals (Tulsa World)

By ANDREA EGER World Staff Writer

ImpactTulsa is launching with a specific end in mind: improving educational outcomes for students across the metro area.

But it’s the method that sets this new initiative apart.

The idea, which came from a national network called Strive Together, is to harness expertise, resources and a variety of perspectives from across an entire region to collectively set goals, work to achieve them and measure progress.

ImpactTulsa already counts the leaders of 10 school districts, CareerTech, higher education, and dozens of business, philanthropic, nonprofit, civic and faith entities as lead partners.

“This is really an unprecedented way to share best practices and resources, and it’s very data-driven,” said CEO Kathy Taylor, former Tulsa mayor and Oklahoma secretary of commerce, tourism and workforce development.

ImpactTulsa began with support from the Schusterman Family Foundation, and since has added funding from Tulsa Area United Way, Tulsa Regional Chamber, and Tulsa Community Foundation.

This new initiative — not program — began in April and will release its first formal data report and initial recommendations at an event Tuesday.

“We don’t want to use data as a hammer, but use common measurements — relevant data — as a flashlight. That’s kind of our motto,” Taylor said, picking up a little LED flashlight from the table in front of her and clicking it on and then off.

ImpactTulsa’s initial recommendations are:

  • Establish a universal kindergarten readiness standard and measurement tool for use by the ImpactTulsa partner schools by the end of the 2015-2016 school year.
  • Identify and share best practices to increase reading proficiency by third grade.
  • Increase the percentage of students graduating from high school ready for postsecondary education and careers.

The 10 school districts that have joined the initiative represent 90 percent of the 170,000 area students. Taylor said the other five area districts — Berryhill, Glenpool, Keystone, Liberty and Sperry — simply don’t have the capacity to do the student data collection needed to participate.

ImpactTulsa found that most participating schools lack a way to measure their youngest students’ kindergarten readiness. Leaders say that data is critical so that early-intervention resources can be directed appropriately to at-risk students.

The first report also aims to calculate the reading proficiency levels among all third-graders in the region, using the Lexile scoring system.

So many schools rely on the Lexile system to track student progress in reading achievement that many retail booksellers have begun to use the scores to sell children’s books so parents are sure to make good purchases.

While some Tulsa-area schools already had Lexile data to examine, ImpactTulsa had to convert state reading-test results for other schools to come up with comparable data.

“What is unmistakably clear is the connection between economic disadvantage and reading proficiency,” the report states. “There is a 180-point difference in reading scores between those with free/reduced-price lunch-eligible students and their paid lunch peers. That is more than one full grade level.”

ImpactTulsa also reports that Tulsa County has the sixth-lowest high school graduation rate out of Oklahoma’s 77 counties. Only Hughes, Seminole, Kay, Cherokee and Muskogee counties were worse.
Union Superintendent Kirt Hartzler is one of nearly 30 individuals on the ImpactTulsa leadership council. He said contrary to political rhetoric, most public schools embrace accountability and want not only to improve, but also to produce the kinds of graduates local employers seek.

“The school grading system is not valid or reliable. It doesn’t make sense to me — this is not a competition,” Hartzler said. “It should not be about Union versus Jenks or Broken Arrow or Tulsa or Bixby or Owasso. This is all of us saying here are some common measurements and then leverage our resources in the community.

“If we are all moving in the same direction, then ultimately, over time, we are going to see some greater things happen with academic performance and school and community engagement.”
Hartzler said the ImpactTulsa initiative has a lot of potential.

“In terms of making sure we do have a viable workforce and preparing students who are ready for college and career, we have got to do better. It’s not any different in Tulsa than it would be in Indiana or any other place in the nation,” he said. “The other cities that have implemented this collective impact philosophy have had great success.”

Andrea Eger 918-581-8470

First posted on the Tulsa World, Sunday, October, 19, 2014 | Updated 3:25am, Sunday, October 19, 2014