Dr. Delia Kimbrel is senior director of research and policy at ImpactTulsa, a collective impact organization that brings together agencies and other nonprofits to improve opportunities for children, from cradle to career.
When Tulsa Public Schools leaders sought to improve student outcomes before the pandemic, they turned to an innovative local portrait of student life in school and beyond to help them identify solutions: the Tulsa Child Equity Index, a database of school and community features influencing student success that the school district, the nonprofit ImpactTulsa and other city agencies launched in early 2019.
Among other things, the data revealed a relationship between student attendance and neighborhood characteristics such as school walk distances and limited transportation options. Absences, they learned, were higher among students living in neighborhoods with long walks to school, fewer bus routes, and other transportation challenges. That led to conversations with transportation officials, school attendance teams and local community groups convened by ImpactTulsa. The result was new transportation opportunities for students and, when combined with other attendance initiatives, lower absenteeism rates at pilot sites before the pandemic closed down schools.
School attendance is one of several aspects of student success that the Tulsa community is working to improve by combining data from a range of child- and family-serving sources in what could be a model for communities nationwide.
Housed at ImpactTulsa and part of the organization’s broader effort to improve cradle-to-career opportunities through citywide partnerships, the Child Equity Index was developed by experts in housing, community development and urban design working with leaders from the school district, the city’s health department, and other government entities and nonprofit organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and Growing Together, a community group dedicated to improving outcomes for children through neighborhood revitalization.
The index measures student need and neighborhood conditions using nearly four dozen indicators of student success that connect students’ school information to census-tract data on neighborhoods in five categories: health (including, for example, life expectancy), safety (crime incidents, arrests), neighborhood socioeconomic status (poverty rates), custodianship (such as lawn or trash complaints), and neighborhood access (to such assets as schools, parks, trails, transit, and grocery stores)—local conditions that play an important role in the ability of families and students to thrive. Each indicator is tested to confirm that it has a practical and statistically significant relationship to academic outcomes.
While they often measure conditions outside a school’s control, the index indicators help ImpactTulsa identify the resources and supports needed by neighborhoods and schools within neighborhoods. To that end, mapping specialists and urban planners from the regional planning organization serving the Tulsa metropolitan area, INCOG, have created geocoded maps that illustrate residential concentrations and neighborhood differences. They convey the statistical relationship between neighborhood conditions and the academic outcomes of the students living there. This analysis helps guide the types of interventions needed to close opportunity gaps and overcome barriers to student success.
In another example of how the strategy helped improve school attendance, analysts found high concentrations of student absenteeism and high rates of student mobility overlapping with hot spots of evictions. That finding launched a conversation among housing advocates, school and community leaders on the scale of eviction in Tulsa and its impact on students.
In response, ImpactTulsa, Tulsa Public Schools and Asemio, a local, community-oriented technology firm, organized a data-collaboration effort that combined eviction records with school attendance information and resulted in an automated alert system for homeless counselors at the school district that helped them marshal support for students and families facing eviction and provide strategies to minimize educational disruption.
ImpactTulsa now convenes an eviction-data working group with other Tulsa agencies and organizations that is exploring additional ways to help policymakers, court advocates and school officials reduce the impact of evictions on children and families. It is also identifying factors that place families at risk of eviction and potential interventions, as well as mapping the incredibly complex eviction system and the likely routes that lead families to homelessness.
ImpactTulsa also drew on the Child Equity Index when it worked with the Tulsa Planning Office to map geographic disparities in internet access during the height of the pandemic, highlighting concentrations of residents without connectivity. The analysis helped inform remote-learning strategies and launch the city’s Internet Access Taskforce, which is addressing disparities in connectivity. It led the City of Tulsa to advocate for $5.6 million in the state’s share of federal CARES Act dollars to subsidize internet subscriptions for up to 20,000 public school families and pay internet-access navigators.
The Child Equity Index allows the Tulsa community to understand the landscape of opportunity, opening up new conversations about how best to support student populations lacking equal chances to succeed in school and beyond.