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by Managing Editor Timantha Norman
A classroom full of listless, distracted adolescents trying to power through academic content within weeks that would normally takes months in a traditional classroom. The teacher in the room charged with keeping these students on track is trying to provide what they can considering they are normally only certified in one specific content area, while the students in the room are working to recover course credit in a plethora of academic subjects. The administration is constantly pensively checking the completion progress on the students, especially when it comes to the seniors, to ensure that the graduation rate this year will have a noticeable spike for a variety of selfless and selfish reasons.
This is a common scenario in countless public high schools in our country, state, and specifically, in this city’s public high schools as credit recovery quickly becomes a seemingly easy solution to skyrocketing class failure rates, and, in turn, the continual dropping of graduation rates.
While the increase in technology in the classroom is arguably a good thing, the definite lack of academic rigor and student accountability (that could apply to school administration accountability for that matter as well) when it comes to the actual curriculum systems utilized in these credit recovery courses is very troubling. In addition to this, the vast majority of public high schools who frequently use credit recovery courses are in low-income communities affecting predominantly students of color.
In a TPS promotional video from this past October about increases in graduation rates, the superintendent boasted an increase to 72.5% as the average for the entire district. However, the methods by which all of the district’s high schools had these gains in graduation rates isn’t made exactly clear. There is conveniently no mention of how often credit recovery is used, especially in low-income schools with students of color as the majority, to push those graduation rates. While I am definitely an advocate of the increase of technology in the classroom, the schools that I see as pioneers of this tend to use blended learning models that still have teacher interaction, student (and parent) accountability, and academically rigorous content while still promoting the individualization of student goals and giving students ownership over their own learning as well. The credit recovery courses that are frequently used in the district’s lowest performing high schools have none of this.
Utilizing credit recovery as an educational crutch instead of the last resort it was originally intended to be is selling the futures of our North Tulsa youth short and is inherently racist in nature. While it is clear that the administration, teachers, and staff at some of the district’s high schools have been trying new and innovative concepts to increase positive student outcomes, there are some that are not. They treat the students like a problem that needs to be dealt with and not as fully formed beings who, despite socioeconomic disadvantages spurred on by institutional racism, easily possess the same academic potential as their peers on the other end of the societal spectrum. The path may just look different (i.e. modifications and accommodations initially, heightened cultural awareness for white instructors in majority black/brown student populations, more partnerships with social service organizations, etc.) but ultimately the students in North Tulsa’s underserved high schools should be receiving the same rigorous education as their white middle/upper-class peers.
In the same TPS promotional video, there was also the repeating of terminology around getting students through high school, to the diploma, getting them finished up. In today’s job market, it is simply not good enough to just have a high school diploma, especially for students of color who will face additional barriers in pursuing employment opportunities. If they are not given the proper guidance and resulting skill set to either attend (and successfully complete) a traditional college/university degree program or a technical/vocational/trade program upon completion of their diploma, then the district has fundamentally failed those students.
The superintendent said that she wanted to give every TPS student “a world-class public education”. Is the dumbing down of academic rigor and standards, especially in low-income schools with majority black and brown student populations the district’s vision of a “world-class public education” for these students? Does the overuse of credit recovery courses in these already severely under-served public high schools just to get them through to a diploma without any college (or career) readiness constitute “a world-class public education”? A win is a win to some folks I suppose no matter how unethical and unsustainable it may be. The students of North Tulsa deserve much more than the bare minimum. They deserve to be challenged and to be pushed and to experience true success beyond high school.
Timantha Norman is the Managing Editor of The Black Wall Street Times. She is an educator who fervently believes in the power of culturally responsive, critical thinking-focused pedagogy in transforming the lives and future prospects of children. She also believes in journalism’s power to give agency and power to historically oppressed populations. Through her activism in the community and as a student of public policy, she understands the importance of harnessing collective, political power in the service of promoting truth and eliminating injustice. She looks forward to harnessing her personal and professional skills in the service of her community.