Citywide Education Progress Report

Key Takeaways: System Reforms

Many community groups in Tulsa are engaged in education, but more can be done to ensure all voices are heard. Families lack comprehensive, consistent, and user-friendly information about their school options. The district is taking steps to address talent, but retaining teachers—both novice and experienced—and developing a pool of leaders to lead autonomous schools remain challenges.


Is the education strategy rooted in the community?


Is the whole community engaged? Education is a citywide endeavor. When families, community organizations, and city leaders have the opportunity to provide feedback and share in the vision, the strategy is more likely to be sustainable and meet the needs of all students. In this goal, we look at how well the city is doing with engaging key stakeholders.


► Does the city engage families in educational decisions that impact them?

Over the past few years, TPS has engaged in a robust process, including surveys, listening sessions, focus groups, and social media to develop academic and budget priorities for the district. For the 2016-17 school year, TPS worked with the community to identify school consolidations as the best of several options for reducing the district’s budget. The district did not close or plan to close any schools in 2017-18 or 2018-19 school years. The community organization MetCares opened a partnership school (a charter/district hybrid) in North Tulsa in the 2017-18 school year, using community engagement to build and demonstrate support. Charter school engagement practices around school openings and closures vary from school to school. In response to parent demand, two charter middle schools are expanding to serve high school students, and a third charter middle school is expanding to serve elementary students.


► Are a variety of groups engaged in education?

Impact Tulsa, a collective impact network, works to improve kindergarten readiness, middle school math performance, and graduation rates. The initiative pulls together local education, nonprofit, philanthropic, business, civic, faith-based, and community-based organizations. The black community in North Tulsa is engaged through the MetCares Foundation, North Tulsa Economic Development Initiative, 100 Black Men, and other groups. However, more work could be done to engage the growing Native American and Hispanic communities on education issues.


► Is there a strong and deep coalition of support for the education strategy?

The superintendent and school board are aligned on strategies for TPS, but funding shortfalls generate headlines and can divert the public’s attention from other efforts. Tulsa Mayor G. T. Bynum supports education as a top priority and advocates for municipal funds to augment the school system. The district and district-authorized charter schools are part of Tulsa’s District-Charter Collaboration Compact; a steering committee meets monthly and periodically refines the parameters of this agreement. The Compact does not include state university-authorized charter schools, which account for six of the city’s twelve charter schools. There are divergent views on continued charter growth, especially regarding virtual or blended models.


► Does the education system respond to community feedback?

The district has been proactive about communicating with families, but there is still limited opportunity for families to provide input on issues that go beyond the individual school level. In the 2017-18 school year, the Superintendent took a lead role in advocating for increased district funding, and district leaders proactively communicated with families about the April teacher walk-out. TPS is trying to engage more deeply with groups that represent families most impacted by poor-performing schools. Choice Matters seeks to engage a broader cross-section of the community. However, this work is just beginning and there is still far to go. For charter school families, avenues for community engagement are mostly at the individual school level. Families in university-authorized charter schools are often unclear where to go to elevate their concerns.

Do students have access to a high-quality education?


Do school choice and supply meet family needs? This goal addresses how well the city is doing with providing families access to quality schools. We look at what the city is doing to ensure quality schools are in every neighborhood, and how well the choice process is working for families who want to use it.


►Is the city strategically managing its school portfolio?

The district did not close or plan to close any schools in 2017-18 and 2018-19. In Fall 2017, the district launched a partnership school, Greenwood Leadership Academy, co-located with a low-performing neighborhood school. When making past decisions about closing or consolidating schools, TPS analyzed building utilization rates as well as past and projected enrollment. The district launched a performance framework for district-run schools in July 2017 that can help guide future school supply decisions and school-based interventions. Based on projected enrollment, two charter middle schools are expanding to serve high school students, and a third charter middle school is expanding to serve elementary students. Universities authorize charters in Tulsa without coordination with the district; however, one interviewee reported that Langston University aims to improve their authorizing practices and may be more open to collaboration in the future.


► Is transportation working for families?

Interviewees reported that transportation is a barrier for families who want to enroll students in schools outside their own neighborhood. High school students can ride public transit for free, and five of the twelve charter schools in Tulsa provide transportation through TPS. However, there is no bus transportation for students attending district magnets or out-of-boundary schools.


► Is the enrollment process working for families?

The enrollment process is not streamlined, and interviewees reported that it can be complex for families. Families are assigned to a neighborhood school and must request a transfer using an online application for magnet schools and/or other district schools with space. District-authorized charter schools use a common application system,  but it is not yet aligned with the district system and it does not include university-authorized charter schools. All charter schools operate their own lotteries.

Little in Place

► Do families have the information they need and know how to use it?

Community leaders reported that in general it is difficult for families to know what school options are available. There is no resource for families to compare performance for all district schools, district-authorized charter schools, and university-authorized charter schools. Families must go to individual school websites to find information about curriculum, programs, and services.

Little in Place

► Does the school supply represent an array of models?

Almost all district and charter schools in Tulsa follow traditional instructional models. However, there are some new models being explored. In 2017-18, a local nonprofit opened a partnership school model. Separately, Rose State College approved EPIC Charter Schools to open a blended learning center. EPIC also operates a state-approved online schooling option that is popular with Oklahomans, though there are reservations about the quality of this program. The district established an innovation office and hopes to develop more instructionally diverse schools, but some interviewees perceived the district could be more transparent about new models it aims to launch. District leaders report that teachers are excited about providing input into personalized learning models, and also hope to open a Montessori model in 2018.

Is the education system continuously improving?


Do schools have the resources they need? School improvement happens at the school level, but making sure resources are available requires sound, citywide policy. Having the right talent in a city is critical for schools to be able to provide students with a quality education. Schools should also have control over their budgets so they have the resources to address the needs of their student population.


► Do schools have the kinds of teachers they need?

While schools rarely start the year with vacancies, retaining teachers throughout the school year—both novice and experienced—is a considerable challenge. Low pay for teachers contributes to recruitment and retention issues. To pressure the state for more funding, in April 2017, teachers walked out of classrooms and class was canceled for two weeks. To mitigate the impact of filling hard-to-staff subjects like math, science, and Special Education, the district gives high-need schools priority access to teacher pipelines. The district is also starting to work with TNTP to develop a long-term strategy. Within the charter sector, interviewees reported that charter school challenges vary. Some schools experience high turnover, while others use their prestige and work environment to attract and retain teachers.


► Do schools have the kinds of leaders they need?

District leadership has identified leadership as a challenge. District and charter schools rely primarily on homegrown leadership pipelines. As one strategy, 23 instructional leaders from TPS attended Relay Graduate Schools’ National Principals Academy. Additionally, TPS better defined the leader selection process, developed a set of competencies for leaders, and established a leadership pipeline, but reports that more work remains to define and develop leaders’ autonomy. The district sees opportunity for partnership with charter schools on school leader development.

Little in Place

► Does funding equitably follow students?

The district has held off implementing a student-based allocation formula for district-run schools until state revenues increase. The Oklahoma Public Charter School Association sued the state board of education over equitable tax revenues for charter school students; Tulsa Public Schools filed to intervene in the lawsuit. As of May 2018, the matter was still proceeding through the court process.

Data & Scoring

Where did we get this information?

► Interviews with district, charter, and community leaders

► Policy documents from district, charter, and state websites

► School data from each city

► A 400-parent survey administered in March, 2017 in Cleveland, Denver, Indianapolis, Memphis, New Orleans, Oakland, and Washington, D.C.

How did we score the
system reforms and goals?

Each indicator is scored with a rubric on a 4-point scale. We added the scores for the indicators to get an overall goal score. See the Methodology & Resources page for details.

Score Levels


About Tulsa

The primary district in Tulsa, Tulsa Public Schools (TPS), has been pursuing a number of systemic changes to improve school and student performance. The district adopted a strategic plan in 2016 and is currently focusing on teacher leadership, school innovation, and personalized instruction. TPS also aims to increase school-site autonomy and partner with nonprofit groups to operate some school campuses. 

School Choice in the City

Tulsa is home to 12 charter schools. TPS operates magnet schools that have neighborhood preference and selective admission policies. Families can also opt in to any district neighborhood school on a space-availability basis using an administrative transfer process.

Governance Model

The Tulsa Public Schools Board oversees district schools, and TPS authorizes half of the city’s charter schools. The other charter schools are authorized by Langston University or Rose State College. TPS also contracts for partnership schools.

2016 District Student Body

Enrollment: 38,628 students
Race and ethnicity: 33% Hispanic, 25% white, 25% black, 17% other
Low income: 73% free and reduced-price lunch

2017 School Composition 

Note: Enrollment and demographics data for Tulsa district schools only.
Source: Tulsa Public Schools, 2016.
School data from researcher analysis of public records, 2016-17.

The Center on Reinventing Public Education is a research and policy analysis center at the University of Washington Bothell developing systemwide solutions for K–12 public education. Questions? Email crpe@uw.edu.