New data about school performance across the country reveals statistics about Oklahoma schools. (Screenshot)

Stanford University’s Educational Opportunity Project database gives a best estimate of the effectiveness of every elementary and middle school in the nation. Its recently released evaluation of test score growth from 2009 to 2016 further explains what it really takes to provide equal educational opportunity. Researchers Sean Reardon, Ericka S. Weathers, Erin M. Fahle, Heewon Jang, and Demetra Kalogrides also provide a diagnostic tool for assessing the relative effectiveness of individual schools.

Before wrestling with what is required to bring equity to the nation, Oklahomans can find data on how each of our own schools is doing. Oklahoma City Public School students scored 1.62 grade levels below the U.S. average. Average OKCPS scores were .68 grade levels lower than districts with similar socioeconomic status, and their learning rates were about the same.

Tulsa had more advantages and less poverty, but its scores were .81 grade levels lower than districts with similar socioeconomic status. Its racial and economic achievement gaps were worse, and poor students declined further in comparison to similar districts.

Reviewing the OKCPS numbers

Since my background is secondary education, I’ll briefly summarize the data for all five middle schools in northeast Oklahoma City.

The students at Northeast Academy, Centennial, Rogers, and Douglass scored .71, .91, .91, and 1.2 grade levels below other schools with similar free/reduced-price lunch percentages. KIPP students scored 2.93 grade levels higher than schools with similar free/reduced-price lunch percentages, and its “learning rate” metric was higher.

Northeast scores declined by 0.02 grade levels compared to schools with similar free/reduced-price lunch percentages. That number is so small, however, that Stanford concludes, “Educational opportunities for the children attending Northeast MS were roughly stable in the years 2009-2016.”

But, Centennial, Rogers and Douglass scores increased by .05, .09, and .14 grade levels (per year) more than schools with similar free/reduced-price lunch percentages. KIPP average annual scores increased by 0.07 grade levels more than schools with similar percentages of students on free/reduced-price lunch. That is half as much as Douglass’ increase.

KIPP’s key outcome was disappointing to me because of its huge advantages, such as donations ranging up to $900,000+ in a year. KIPP served less than one-third as many special education students (and it didn’t have to deal with disabilities that were nearly as serious.) KIPP’s four-year attrition rates for low-income and special education students were about 70 percent. It suspended 74 percent of students with disabilities once. KIPP suspended 52 percent of disabled students more than once. That was nearly four times OKCPS’ multiple suspension rate.

KIPP (and Centennial) had twice as many inexperienced teachers as Douglass, and that may explain Douglass’ larger gains.

‘We have to do something about segregation’

So, what would it take to provide equal opportunity to our poorest schools?

The OKCPS outcomes are very consistent with researcher Reardon’s evidence that the dominant, instruction-driven reforms of the last generation remain doomed to fail in the inner city. He concludes that test-score patterns are the result of “two phenomena — racial segregation and economic inequality — [that] are intertwined because students of color are concentrated in high-poverty schools.”

The study finds:

We have no example of a school district where minority students disproportionately attend high poverty schools that does not have a large racial achievement gap. If it were possible to create equal educational opportunity under conditions of segregation and economic inequality, some community—among the thousands of districts in the country—would have done so.

None have. Separate is still unequal.

“There’s a common argument these days that maybe we should stop worrying about segregation and just create high-quality schools everywhere,” says Reardon. “This study shows that it doesn’t seem to be possible.”

He concludes, “It doesn’t seem that we have any knowledge about how to create high-quality schools at scale under conditions of concentrated poverty. (…) And if we can’t do that, then we have to do something about segregation.”

Diversity benefits students

We’ve known since the 1966 Coleman Report that the socio-economic background of parents explains most of student performance. We’ve since learned that teachers account for about 10 to 15 percent of learning.

Since economic and racial segregation won’t be going away anytime soon, we should respect serious research, which Reardon participated in, on 54 California school systems that have done better at closing the achievement gap. The researchers learned that those districts retained experienced teachers and avoided hiring emergency-certified teachers. It also found that poor children of color especially benefited when smaller schools were kept open.

Above all, we should respect the science which explains why shortcuts — such as the “No Excuses” fad — won’t work. Instead, we should seek equity across our entire community. It makes no sense to use the stresses of testing and competition to overcome the stresses of poverty and segregation.

To provide equity, we must find ways to bring the advantages of an integrated society into classrooms, recruiting the full array of adults from our community into our schools and bringing students out of their classrooms into the full diversity of Oklahoma City.