The state Board of Education on Thursday placed a new set of expectations on Tulsa Public Schools as part of its heightened monitoring of the district.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters laid out the expectations for improvement in student test scores, teacher training and overall school performance, and the board approved his proposal.

The district is expected to:

  • Have at least 50% of students testing basic or higher in reading and math on state tests in spring 2024, or increase the number of students who do by at least a 5%
  • Train all teachers in the science of reading
  • Remove at least 12 school sites from the state’s comprehensive support and improvement list (currently, there are 18).

“We want to see Tulsa succeed,” Walters said. “We want to see Tulsa Public Schools chart this plan out for success, and we want to see that success happen. If they fall short of it, all options will be on the table.”

Some are concerned the metrics are unachievable and unrealistic. Ashley Daly, a public education advocate whose daughter attends Tulsa Public Schools, said the Board of Education is simply laying the groundwork for an eventual takeover under the guise of high expectations.

Tulsa Public Schools is the state’s largest district, with nearly 34,000 students attending more than 70 schools. More than a third of students are multilingual learners and 80% of students’ families are low-income, according to the district.

Tulsa Public Schools staved off a state takeover or loss of accreditation this summer after parting ways with Superintendent Deborah Gist. Ultimately, the district was accredited with deficiencies, an improvement compared to 2022, when it was accredited with warning following a complaint under House Bill 1775, a state law restricting certain classroom conversations about race and gender.

Interim Superintendent Ebony Johnson is presenting updates to the state Board of Education at every monthly meeting, and the Department has conducted over 100 site visits to Tulsa schools so far this year.

The Department wants district leaders to consider closing some schools and restructuring the district, and Johnson said it’s under consideration.

In other news:

  • Walters said his agency is working on a proposal to include academic measures in the school accreditation process. The metric would likely mirror the ones imposed on Tulsa Public Schools: at least 50% of students scoring at basic or better in math and reading, or 5% growth. Currently, accreditation is mainly used to assess health and safety and compliance with state rules and regulations, and school report cards are used to assess academics.
  • The board retained the First Liberty Institute and law firm Spencer Fane for legal representation in Attorney General Gentner Drummond’s lawsuit against the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board over its approval of St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School. First Liberty Institute, based in Plano, Texas, will be working pro bono, according to the contract.

Jennifer Palmer has been a reporter with Epic Text Books since 2016 and covers education. Contact her at (405) 761-0093 or Follow her on Twitter @jpalmerOKC.

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