Education

Tulsa Public Schools, don’t block the fire escape for your Black students please

TPS’ students meeting college readiness benchmarks in math, reading, and both during the 2017 – 2018 school year. 

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Author’s Note: While I care about the education and well being of all TPS students, currently I’m worried about the Black students the most. Black students are suffering and will continue to suffer from a lack of knowledge. The less educated Black students are the higher-probability they will have at ending up in an Oklahoma prison. Presently, Black TPS students are 10-percent less college-ready than their Latinx counterparts. What’s even more troubling: TPS’s Black students are 43-percent less college-ready than their White counterparts.


OPINION | By Nehemiah D. Frank 

Why are so many Black people jumping on the anti-charter school bandwagon?

Being Black while simultaneously anti-school choice or anti-charter school is irrational.

Why would we send our children into a building that could potentially burn the majority of Black students who would attend it and do it without the security of a fire escape?

Such a decision doesn’t make any sense.

Before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated, he said to a crowded church “I fear I am integrating my people into a burning house.”Like prophecy, we have sent our Black children into a burning schoolhouse.

Today, it’s our kids who are suffering the most, succumbing to the flames and unable to read on grade-level nor solve simple math equations.

Every day that a Black student attends a school where teachers aren’t pushing them to their full potential is another day that they lose the opportunity to become competitive.

“My son went to and graduated from a charter school. When he was in public school, it was a daily chore to get to go to school and love going. By the time he was in fifth grade, I knew I had to do something, so I put him in a charter school. He is now in his third year of college. He has been to college by 10th grade in Turkey. The charter school that my son attended sent him to Turkey where a Turkish family sponsored him while there. Going to a charter school afforded him several opportunities that were not available for him in a public school. The public school offered security, armed men, and a lack of interest in him. I totally back charter schools. I don’t worry about the naysayers because until they walk in a person of color’s shoes, they will never ever understand that public education does not include people of color a comparable education.” This is LaTonya Norman’s testimonial.

She’s just one of the many mothers who are thankful for the option of school choice in Oklahoma.

Many anti-charter advocates will argue that charter schools aren’t public schools.

Those who understand how charter schools operate, individuals who actually work at charter schools, are the best equipped to provide the public with a better understanding of what a charter school is and what the school choice movement is about. 

“Charter schools are public schools. They operate with greater flexibility in exchange for greater oversight. They try new ways of educating kids that would be harder to do in traditional public schools. We need to fix the traditional public schools, no doubt about that. But that will take a decade or more. Meanwhile, we owe families a choice. Rich families get choice. They can send their kids to private school or move if they don’t like public school. People who aren’t rich get choice when a charter school offers them an option. Why would we reserve choice in education for rich people only?” Don Parker stated.

Parker is the executive director of Kipp Tulsa, a free public charter school sponsored by Tulsa Public Schools, and a student of government and social justice through Harvard University’s Extension School.

I believe that he’s right. We as a society owe it to our children to ensure that they have options available for them.

When I found out TPS was reviewing whether to pass a moratorium on sponsoring charter schools, which is a reoccurring theme that the District 1 TPS school board member, Jeanette Marshall, continues to introduce to the Tulsa community, I then wanted to know the reasoning for her decision.

So I reached out to Karen Pittman, the North Tulsa Education Task Force Facilitator who is overseeing the McLain Feeder Pattern redirect that involves the closing of the McLain 7th grade center.

She stated to me in an email that, “The moratorium on charter schools was inserted because we want to reclaim all the students in the McLain Feeder Pattern.”

Now let’s think rationally. Pittman used the word ‘inserted,’ which leads me to assume that Jeanette Marshall is pushing an anti-charter school movement once again in TPS. 

Last year Jeanette Marshall called for the closing of Greenwood Leadership Academy, a TPS partnership school that operates much like a charter, due to an isolated incident that had taken place in the school building.

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Luckily, GLA remained open after she experienced a major clap back from the North Tulsa community. 

The school’s leadership and board of directors quickly intervened and immediately addressed the situation in a professional manner.

Yet somehow that wasn’t good enough for Ms. Marshall. She wanted to see the school closed because she is anti-charter schools and anti-school-choice.

Does this mean that Ms. Marshall is against Black students having educational options?It certainly appears that way to me. 

To be honest, I’m not for putting all my eggs into one basket — that’s not smart. 

I do, however, know what’s logical.

I know that Monroe Demonstration Academy has enough students to fill its classrooms. With the closing of McLain’s 7th Grade Center, TPS will have plenty of students to funnel into Monroe Demonstration Academy.

Therefore the argument to “reclaim all the students in the McLain Feeder Pattern” isn’t a strong enough argument.


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If Black students can’t test well on the SAT, they can’t get into college and miss scholarships opportunities. They are forced to take remedial classes at local community colleges, which is a waste of time and money.


Furthermore, had TPS been serious about educating the majority of Black students, had it practiced equity — and not just pushed the students who attend Carver Middle School, a magnet, and Booker T. Washington High School, a magnet school with an International Baccalaureate program — by focusing on educating Black children, too, since the integration of TPS schools, we wouldn’t have charter schools in Tulsa today. In fact, we probably wouldn’t have any.

Consider this: The first charter school in Tulsa, Oklahoma opened because the majority of Black students weren’t being taught in Tulsa Public Schools.

So now, we want to “reclaim all the students in the McLain Feeder Pattern,” when schools like Deborah Brown Community School, Kipp Tulsa and Sankofa School of Creative and Performing Arts began popping up, to name a few, these charter schools came with a mission to prepare Tulsa students with an excellent education so that they could have a chance at attending college or have the tools they need to land a successful career — without having to take remedial classes. 

Hence, TPS still needs to prove that it can educate Black students at the same academic rate it educates White students before considering a moratorium.

Let’s keep it real. TPS has never educated Black students at the same rate since school integration. They have, however, fired the majority of its Black teachers, closed the majority of its Black schools, increased suspension rates among Black students, and has yet to close the academic achievement gap. 

To be fair. I do see positive changes with TPS’s current administration under Deborah Gist. She’s the first superintendent to really push for equity across the board. However, as Don Parker mentioned “We need to fix the traditional public schools…But that will take a decade or more. Meanwhile, we owe families a choice.”

It’s interesting that you never hear pro-charter advocates and teachers working at charter schools calling for the closing of Tulsa Public Schools. That’s because even pro-charter advocates  understand that charter schools aren’t for every child. We understand that students and their families should have the option to choose what model works best for them.

Shivvon Herrar put it best: “I don’t understand why we can’t co-exist and have both? Why can’t we improve our regular schools while also giving parents the choice to send their kids to charter schools? Parents should have choices as to where to send their kids for their education.”


Nehemiah FrankNehemiah D. Frank is the founder and editor-in-chief 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 for the school choice movement. He’s a blogger for EdPost and a CAB Editorial Member at the Tulsa World. He’s been featured on NBC, Blavity, and Tulsa People. Nehemiah is also a school administrator and teacher at Sankofa School of Creative and 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 spring of 2018. 

 

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Categories: Education