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OPINION | By Nehemiah D. Frank
How much does racial representation matter to Black students in the classroom and Black parents?
As a Black teacher turned school administrator, I can tell you first-hand that having a Black teacher at the helm is crucial for a Black child’s academic success.
In November of 2018, US News published an article spotlighting the importance of Black teachers: “One black teacher before third grade increases the chances a black child will enroll in college,” the article reported.
“Previous research has also shown positive short-term causal impact of black students having black teachers, in which their end-of-year test scores were higher than black students who didn’t have a black teacher,” a study found.
With Black students consistently testing at the bottom of standardized test, why aren’t school districts putting forth more effort to recruit Black teachers into their schools if they know that Black teachers make a difference in behavior and academic performance?
Shouldn’t it be a school district’s top priority to hire more Black teachers?
It would be, after all, inequitable for a school to have a disproportionate amount of Black teachers, with White teachers being the majority of a school’s teaching population in a school with a majority Black student population.
Having majority white teachers with a majority black student population undercuts the future success for those Black students. My argument isn’t a statement of opinion, but a statement of fact when one considers the study.
We need to stop pretending like we aren’t contributing to the white-savior-classroom mentality when we aren’t demanding that school districts hire more Black teachers for these classrooms that have majority Black students.
For instance: When my community, north Tulsa — a majority Black community, found out that we were slated to receive a public Montessori school that would be added to one of our existing public neighborhood schools, we had mixed feelings.
Some of us welcomed the new educational methodology with optimism, while others condemned the Tulsa Public School District’s plans to build the new school, fearing the school would lead to gentrification of the neighborhood and the school itself.
Before the Montessori addition, last year the student population for Emerson Elementary was around 70-percent Black; according to TPS this, year Emerson’s student population is 61-percent Black. For the new Montessori school the student population is 55-percent Black.
The downward trend in the school’s Black student population is an indication that gentrification may be taking place at Emerson as a result of the new Montessori program.
New apartment and condominium developments in the Emerson school border is another indication of the possibility for future gentrification at Emerson’s Montessori.
So when Black elders in the community say, “It isn’t for our kids,” they see the development trends and where the Montessori was placed — in an area where White affluent children can have access to the school.
Had the Montessori been placed at Burroughs, Hawthorne, or Anderson worries of gentrification wouldn’t be a discussion; however, it was added to a school that’s located in a neighborhood that is already being gentrified. Furthermore, the school sits right off a major highway.
If you know anything about Montessori schools, you know that they are categorized as schools for the affluent classes and rightly so.
Tuition at a Montessori can run a family between $5000 to $12,000 annually.
For the average Black family, spending thousands of dollars on school tuition while earning 25-percent less than the average white household is a no go.
However, the Emerson Montessori program is free, so shouldn’t Black families be excited about a free public Montessori?
Not if you considered the ratio of Black teachers to Black students in the Montessori program.
What’s most concerning to me and other community members is the lack of Black teachers in the Montessori program. There are currently 101 Black students in the Montessori program and there’s only 1 Black teacher. There are 6 White teachers and a purported 2 Native American teachers.
I should also note that the Montessori program is set up to where students stay with the same teacher for three years before getting a new one.
Black students in the Montessori program that currently have White teachers will not have the opportunity of exposure to a Black teacher until after the three years are up, which lowers the probability of the child attending college according to the US News report.
I have tried remaining optimistic about the new Montessori school, but I have heard too many parents complaining about Emerson’s new Montessori school.
Since the program has opened 55 students have left the program. TPS is unsure as to the reason why these parents decided to pull their children from the program. But said that of those 55 students 26 are currently enrolled at another school in TPS.
16 left during August right at the beginning of the year. They either moved or were a no show on the first day of school. 13 have left between the months of September and January. I personally know that some of the students ended up back at free local charter schools.
Tulsa Public Schools, as well as other school districts with large Black student populations, need to get a lot more serious about hiring Black teachers. Perhaps maybe parents will stop losing faith that TPS’s quest for equity is just ‘talk’.
Nehemiah D. Frank is the founder and executive editor of The Black Wall Street Times. He graduated from Harold Washington College in Chicago, IL, and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Oklahoma State University. A rising voice in America and an emerging leader in the education reform movement, Nehemiah frequently travels for speaking engagements around the country, is a blogger for Education Post, and has been featured on NBC as well as in Blavity and Tulsa People. Nehemiah is also a teacher at Sankofa School of the Performing Arts in Tulsa, OK, a 2017 Terence Crutcher Foundation honoree, a recipient of the 2017 METCares Foundation Community Impact Award, and a 2018 Oluko Fellow. He gave a TED Talk at The University of Tulsa in the spring of 2018.