By the numbers: high- and low-performing public schools in the Oklahoma City district
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Published: 05-May-2011

The Oklahoma City Public School District is turning out scores of students who could arguably be considered functionally illiterate, based on site report cards filed with the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

(All data is from the 2009-2010 academic year, the most recent full year available).

In what most stakeholders would consider far too many cases, upwards of 40, 50, 60 and even 70 percent of graduating elementary school student classes lack essential reading skills.

The fact that so many district children can’t read at satisfactory levels became evident in a CapitolBeatOK investigation which examined the performance records of all 62 Oklahoma City elementary schools.

They are described as “lacking in knowledge” or “unsatisfactory” on the report cards. The only other categories are proficient and advanced.

Administrators say the performance problems have triggered federal government assistance, resulting in several million dollars in federal grant money to implement the intensive and dramatic turnaround programs. 

The number one performing public school is KIPP College Preparatory (now a charter school, formerly an enterprise school) where, in the last full school year, students reached 100% proficiency in reading and math and 92% proficiency in science.

The most troubled city public school based on performance scores is Edwards Elementary, with 78% of students struggling in reading, 71% in math and 64% in science.

Many of the district’s remaining elementary schools also have high percentages of students struggling, particularly in reading.

Almost all of the district’s middle schools are on the No Child Left Behind list of schools for failing to improve. The majority of traditional high schools continue the low performance trends.

This urban disrict is not alone in grappling with serious performance problems. The Tulsa Public School District is having similar difficulties as are many rural school systems, a spot check by CapitolBeatOK found.

Blame is often meted out to “bad” teachers, the teachers union or administrative complacency. Certainly, in varied analyses, some blame is shared by these groups.

However, in fairness, the elements of urban educational performance problems are more deeply rooted and complex. Factors include state and federal bureaucratic strictures, regulatory constraints, severe socio-economic problems faced by students, and poor parental support.

*These children often experience intense peer pressure to “blow off” school and engage in gang, drug and other self-destructive activities.

School districts for the most part are not equipped to deal with such issues, but some educators at particular sites – including KIPP and some others – have found ways to shift student performance positively.

Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Karl Springer said he is instituting some progressive reforms designed to result in substantive improvements for all district students, especially those struggling the most.

Among them:

*A continuous learning calendar (a close cousin to year-around schools). Studies affirm that more study time in and out of school makes a big difference. More school days have been added for the most troubled.

* He has also appointed a turnaround specialist, Dr. Linda Toure, who has been tasked with helping implement and oversee federal grant-funded reforms.

*The district has appointed mentor teachers to help other instructors improve their teaching practices.

* Springer said he has forged a cooperative relationship with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) to support the district’s reform vision. Such an accord is highly unusual and, at least in the view of some analysts, highly admirable.

*The district fired and replaced half of the teachers in troubled U.S. Grant High School. Springer said Grant's principal carefully screened replacements to ensure they would fully commit to greater academic rigor.

Springer and Toure said the Grant program also includes more classroom time and more days in class, as well as teacher professional development embedded throughout the school.

* Springer says if 2011-2012 school year budget cuts are necessary, it will come from overhead, administrative or other efficiencies, not classrooms. (Springer also took a personal compensation reduction at the start of the current budget crunch.)

However, some past district practices are likely to blame for landing the district in the position it is in now.

They include:

*High administrative overhead in proportion to resources allocated to instructional needs, including supplies, teachers and resources they need. (This is an issue prevalent in other Oklahoma public school districts, as well.).

*Some elementary classrooms (the time of life when students need the most attention) ballooned well beyond normally acceptable sizes – in some instances as high as the 30s and 40s and at least one at 50, according to the data provided. Normally elementary school teachers should be dealing with class sizes in the low 20s. Big classes have been identified in several very troubled schools.

By law, elementary class sizes are mandated to remain rooted in the 20s because young children need more individual attention. Oklahoma City has been excepted from this because it is at maximum bonded indebtedness.

*Pervasive levels of social promotion (a practice that will now end due to a new law just passed and signed by Governor Mary Fallin). Social promotion will now be prohibited beyond third grade.

*Language barriers the district is not equipped to deal with such as more bilingual teachers and textbooks. Older relatives at home often have a poor grasp of English, making it difficult for them to participate in home studies.

Finally, there are serious difficulties that, at least now, are beyond the district’s scope:

* High mobility among the student population.

*Poor motivation among some students.

*Poor family support and involvement in their student’s success.

*Peer pressure steering young people into self-defeating attitudes and lifestyles such as drug abuse and gang participation.

But, perhaps, the cavalry is on the way.

Springer is implementing reforms that he seems confident that will begin a renewal in his district.

“We’ve remodeled or are remodeling every school in the district and rebuilt U.S. Grant and John Marshall,” said Springer. “What MAPS [for KIDS] has done for us is provide a roadmap for improvement.

“Now, we going to make sure that inside those schools, that achievement is something we expect.”

An emerging success story is at U.S. Grant High School, said Toure, the city district staffer who is in charge of helping turn around troubled, district schools.

The U.S. Department of Education has identified three schools eligible for federal financial aid and has sent $3 million for reform efforts over three years. In addition to Grant, the others are Douglass Middle School and F.D. Moon Academy.

Several turnaround models were available, and the transformational model has been chosen for the three schools, said Toure. Other choices included closing the schools or converting them to charters.

Grant’s principal was given authority to screen the teachers he wanted to hire so he was able to have the certified staff he felt would be highly motivated.

Grant's instructional time has been expanded daily and 18 additional classroom days have been scheduled, said Toure. Literacy is being given special attention as is teacher professional development, which is embedded in the school day, every day.

At the three schools targeted for improvement now, the district is introducing proven methods - some renowned nationally - for helping student populations just like Oklahoma City's, Toure said.

So far, the response has been notable, in Dr. Toure’s view.

“I have visited with students at Grant, and they have told me they have completely different relationships with the teachers now,” she said. “There is a significant cultural change at Grant.”

She is pleased with the renewed enthusiasm and rigor at Grant, and she aims to achieve similar success at Moon and Douglass.

A close look at performance by site is enlightening.

With few exceptions, the highest performing schools are charter, college prep and enterprise schools.

Following are the district’s 10 most troubled elementary schools. The percentages in this listing represent the number of students in the elementary school’s graduating class who are lacking in knowledge or cannot perform at satisfactory levels.

Edwards Elementary

78% in Reading

71% in Math

64% in Science

North Highland Math/Science Academy

78% Reading

57% Math

47% Science


76% in Reading

53% in Math

36% in Science

Putnam Heights

76% in Reading

64% in Math

48% in Science

M.L. King

76% Reading

59% in Math

49% in Science


69% in Reading

42% in Math

39% in Science


67% in Reading

65% in Math

46% in Science

Southern Hills

66% in Reading

63% in Math

40% in Science

Willow Brook

64% in Reading

58% in Math

 39% in Science 

Hawthorne Elementary

64% in Reading

64%  in Math

16% in Science

The Best, and the Best of the Best:

Listed below, according to site report cards, are the top two performers among all the traditional schools in the Oklahoma City system. The percentages represent proficiency in meeting identified standards. They are:

Cleveland Elementary

91% proficiency in Reading

84% in Math

94% in Science

Quail Creek Elementary

98% proficiency in Reading

100% in Math

98% in Science

Other elementary schools coming in close behind these two sites are Linwood, Nichols Hills, Sequoyah, Rancho Village, Wilson, Horace Mann, Buchanan, Ridgeview and Pierce.

Following are the top performers among charter and enterprise schools. As a group, they outperform traditional public schools. These sites typically feature highly motivated families and students, and those families compete for acceptance in these schools. The notable exception is KIPP Reach Preparatory Academy. It ranks No. 1 among city public schools, although it is a neighborhood school.

Following, with percentages indicating proficiency, are the top charter, enterprise and academies:

KIPP Reach Academy

100% proficiency in Reading

100 % proficiency in Math

92% in Science

Classen School of Advanced Studies

100% proficiency in Reading

85% in Math

89% in Science

Columbus Enterprise

95% proficiency in Reading

100% proficiency in Math

85% proficiency in Science

Dove Science Academy

95% proficiency in Reading

94% in Math

97% in Science

Harding Charter Prep

96% proficiency in Reading

94% Math

80% Science

Belle lsle Enterprise School

92% proficiency in Reading

97% in Math

100% in Science

Observers agree the problems facing the Oklahoma City Public Schools have been festering for some time and it will take patience to turn around the district’s issues. 

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