Ray Carter | October 12, 2022

Despite learning loss, Tulsa closes school for Election Day

Ray Carter

Tulsa Public Schools will be closed on Election Day in November, potentially creating financial strain for many low-income families in the district and delaying classroom instruction at a time when Tulsa students remain far behind their peers in academic outcomes.

The calendar for Tulsa Public Schools shows that the district will hold no classes on Monday, Nov. 7, and has declared Election Day on Tuesday, Nov. 8 to be a “civic day” in which no classroom instruction will occur.

As with other school closings for Election Day, the decision to close Tulsa schools potentially prioritizes staff political activity over many children served by the district, including low-income families who may now face increased costs for childcare or the loss of income if one parent must stay home with children.

According to state records, 22.4 percent of the Tulsa district population lives below the poverty line and 78.9 percent of Tulsa students are characterized as “economically disadvantaged.” Nearly half of the students do not live in a household with two parents.

While school officials plan to make up for the lost day later in the school year, the delay in instruction comes as state testing results show Tulsa students are far behind their peers across Oklahoma and experienced significant learning loss when the district remained shut down for months during COVID.

Four percent of Tulsa eighth-grade students were proficient in math in the 2021-2022 school year.

The results of state tests administered in grades three through eight in English Language Arts and math in spring 2022 show that no more than 14 percent of students in any grade were proficient or better, and the share of proficient students was often in the single digits. Just four percent of Tulsa eighth grade students were proficient in math in the 2021-2022 school year.

In third-grade English Language Arts, just 11 percent of Tulsa students tested proficient or better, a rate that is nearly half the already-low level of 20 percent proficient or better in the pre-COVID 2018-2019 school year.

Third grade is considered a crucial year because students transition from learning to read to reading to learn in subsequent grades.

Students in the sixth grade in the 2021-2022 school year were in third grade in the 2018-2019 school year, the last prior to COVID. State tests show that cohort of Tulsa students have experienced significant learning loss during that time—and their results were not great prior to COVID.

In the 2018-2019 school year, state tests showed that 20 percent of Tulsa third-grade students were proficient or better in English Language Arts, but just 11 percent of those students remained proficient or better by the time they reached sixth grade in the 2021-2022 school year.

State tests show that 21 percent of Tulsa third-grade students were proficient in math in the 2018-2019 school year. By the time those students reached sixth grade in Tulsa in the 2021-2022 school year, just 7 percent were proficient or better.

Tulsa is among the more high-profile districts to close its doors on Election Day, along with the Oklahoma City school district.

In recent years, other school districts have closed for Election Day, in some instances claiming that school employees struggle to vote without a full day off. However, polling places are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day, meaning school employees have time both before the start of their workday and after to cast ballots. The state also allows absentee voting by mail or in-person early voting on certain days. Many parents both vote and work on Election Day.

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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