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OPINION|By Autumn Brown, M.Ed.
OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — “It’s life changing stuff for our kids. And its opportunity where opportunity doesn’t currently exist,” says Dr. Sean McDaniel in his statement regarding Oklahoma City Public Schools’ rollout of ‘Pathways to Greatness.’ This new plan calls for the closure of 15 elementary schools in the district as well as Centennial Mid-High.
Additionally, the plan implements a true middle school model that converts many of the elementary schools, combines current mid-high schools, and will initiate head start programs.
While there may be outrage aimed at these changes, I think that this plan is just what OKCPS needs to ensure an equitable and educational experience for its students.
As a former teacher at Douglass Mid-High school, I was able to see firsthand how the school was lacking in support — needed for students who are disadvantaged economically.
Though the school housed students from 7th-12th grade, the building itself was only 50% utilized by students and staff.
The same is true for schools such as Northeast Academy where there are only 250 combined high school and middle school students.
In the words of our beloved Russell Westbrook, “why not?”
OKCPS services over 40,000 students and is currently comprised of 79 schools. That means that there is an average of 506 students attending each school.
Edmond public schools services 23,966 students in a total of 25 schools, with an average of 958 students per school.
Maximizing facilities and resources is a good start in ensuring equity for students that are in need of more than your average educational experience.
OKCPS currently ranks as one of the lowest performing districts in the state, with only 47% proficiency in Math and 49% proficiency in Reading. The average graduation rate is 71% while 80% of students are considered economically disadvantaged.
In a study conducted by Considine & Zappala from the University of Sydney, it was shown that economically disadvantaged students have significant gaps in learning, tracing back to the very beginning of their lives and even before they are born as they were less likely to receive adequate prenatal care—and perhaps no prenatal care at all.
Moreover, there is little intellectual stimulation at home which can lead to a slower development of cognitive growth.
Consequently, those children born into poverty know 600 fewer words by the age of 3-years-old—this gap widens to 4,000 words by the second grade.
For students who are economically disadvantaged, you can categorize their needs into five areas:
- basic needs (food & shelter),
- emotional needs (counseling & therapy),
- academic needs (access to higher level thinking and courses), and behavioral and parental support.
The first step in breaking this curse is to identify both the challenges and the needs for each student, and in my opinion, Dr. McDaniel’s plan is an acknowledgment of the problem and an attempt to rectify the issue.
By closing schools that are not being optimally utilized and pulling resources together such as reading specialists, counselors and therapists, and highly certified teachers, students in the district will have access to additional instruction as well as social and emotional support.
This plan could significantly identify the gaps, and work toward filling these gaps through early intervention.
Eradicating unnecessary building expenses allows for the district to increase funding per student, which is currently $8,080 per student ($400 less than per student expenditures in Edmond public schools and $3,000 less than the national average).
Students in OKCPS yearn for access and their geographical location in the state should not act as a barrier to the type of democratic education that all students deserve and should receive.
By closing schools in the district and employing a system aimed at greater support and better use of funds that benefit academics, the equity we desire for our Black and Brown students stands a chance.
Autumn Brown is a doctoral student in social foundations of education at Oklahoma State University. Social foundations analyzes and explains educational issues, policies, and practices through the lenses of history, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, and cultural studies. Its goal is to improve the educational experiences for members belonging to marginalized groups. Her research focus centers around the experiences of black women in STEM and black women within the academy. She also researches racial body politics, sexuality, and intimate justice for black women. She has published a book chapter titled “Breaking the silence: Black women’s experience with abortion,” and has presented her work on the intense policing of the black female body nationally. Autumn plans on continuing her pursuits in bringing awareness to the injustices imposed on members within her community, and advocating for equitable education for black and brown students. She plans on finishing her Ph.D. in May 2020 and hopes to move into a tenure-tracked faculty position at a top tier research university.