Tulsa Schools Outlines Problems In Gates' Proposal

Tuesday, August 4th 2009, 10:13 pm
By: News On 6

By Ashli Sims, The News On 6

TULSA, OK -- Tulsa Public Schools reveals only 7% of its graduates are truly ready for college. And, the statistics are worse for poor and minority students.  Black, Hispanic, and poor graduates are all in the low single digits.  It's another reason why TPS is asking the founder of Microsoft for help.

"It's so abysmally low that it tells me we have a serious problem in kids who are college ready," said Superintendent Dr. Keith Ballard.

In the Gates Foundation proposal, TPS claims all of the teachers who are not considered highly-qualified are in the highest poverty schools.  And, the superintendent says that's going to change.

The picture of Tulsa Public Schools in the Gates Foundation Proposal is of a district divided.  Test scores reveal an achievement gap colored by race and poverty.  A 20 to 30 point chasm exists between Hispanic and black Algebra students and their white peers.

"Data doesn't lie and it has painted a very stark picture for us and it's caught all of our attention," said Dr. Keith Ballard.  

And, it has prompted the district to push a plan that would put an effective teacher in every classroom.  TPS is asking the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for $55 million to revolutionize how the district hires, fires, pays and trains teachers.

"We've not been getting effective teachers in the right places where we can really impact the kids who need it the most," said Dr. Keith Ballard.

Ballard is suggesting pumping new blood into struggling schools by making it worthwhile for teachers to take on more challenging assignments.  He would pay teachers bonuses based in part on student improvement on test scores.  The more students have to gain, the bigger the paycheck.

"They are quite effective and we need to get them in front of the right kids. And, if we pay them, they'll do it," said Denzel Kesterson with the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association.

TPS also wants to assign a successful principal who would then hand-select a team of teachers to go into the three most challenged schools and turn them around.  Team leaders would get a $10,000 stipend for three years to get the job done. 

Some are glad to hear TPS has finally recognized their shortcomings.

"And that they're willing to bite the bullet and say hey we haven't done everything that we can do to benefit our young people and we're going to do it this time," said community activist Carmen Pettie.

Others worry if the district doesn't identify the root causes for the disparities, things will never truly change.

"Because even with $20 million, if we don't find the root cause of why we do the things we do and begin to change those relationships and understand the vision we must have for all children, you'll blow it," said Darryl Bright with CUBES.

Dr. Ballard has vowed that every teacher, no matter the school, will be effective.  And, they're going to provide professional development that targets teachers' specific weaknesses.  But, if teachers don't improve, Dr. Ballard says they will be fired.