Education

Black Educational Crisis in Tulsa Public Schools

A school bus full of children gesture and chant, "Hands up, don't shoot" in the St. Louis area

By Nehemiah D. Frank, Founder & Editor-in-Chie

Is it magnet school or bust again for the Tulsa Public Schools’ Black students? It certainly appears that way. 

Let’s be frank, when students get into Carver Middle School and or Booker T. Washington High School it’s something to celebrate, especially when you’re Black and from North Tulsa.

Both Booker T. and Carver are competitively ranked public magnet schools, and attending such prestigious schools can be life-changing for the students and their families — considering that all other schools, surrounding these two magnets, received an Fs for academic achievement from the Oklahoma Department of Education’s annual report cards. 

Middle Schools in North Tulsa

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High Schools in North Tulsa

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Studies indicate that Black students who attend failing schools have a higher probability of incarceration when they reach adulthood as opposed to their Black peers who attend academically higher performing schools.

And with bachelors degrees becoming the new equivalency of a high school diploma, it’s become vital for black students to graduate from high school — college-ready.

Today, the Tulsa Public Schools’ district is currently experiencing a rise in its black high school graduation rate. And yes, this is something to celebrate! Regardless of that milestone, I consider it only a small victory because most of these Black students aren’t college-ready.

Most of the Black students, who funnel through TPS’s school-to-career pipeline, Carver Middle School and Booker T. Washington High school — graduate college ready. This means that most of the students who graduate from this school finish without having the need to spend thousands of dollars in remedial college courses that are basically high school classes.

Black students from poor or working-class families can’t afford, nor do they have the time, to trudge for years through remedial classes. Studies show that Black students who have to take remedial courses have a higher chance of dropping out.

To be black and uneducated in this America is to be more susceptible to not being able to get your shit together and having a higher chance at ending up in a jail or prison cell, and that’s real talk. 

Hence, the current situation is seemingly magnet schools or bust for most students who don’t get into the magnet schools, and that’s unacceptable.

All public schools in Tulsa, regardless of if they’re a magnet or traditional, should have the environment conducive to produce and graduate students that they know will become successful.

As of now, I don’t see it.

Don’t get me wrong, small growth goals are great; however, these Black kids have to compete in a world that is already counting them out.

OK_Rates_2010.pngEradicating generational trauma can only be undone through educating the next generation, so they can become valuable and land careers that can change their financial outcomes.

We can only stop the mass incarceration of Black people in Oklahoma by being intensional and making hard changes to ensure positive outcomes for Black students. 

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We know that Black and Brown bodies are filling Oklahoma prisons.

Invest in Black and Brown children, so we can stop being the incarceration capital of the world.

I want to continue having hope for Black students who are attending these failing public schools in Tulsa; however, how long does it take a school district to implement the promises of racial equality and equity in the form of academic progress and college and career readiness for its Black students?

Black people have always been waiting on America’s institutions to do the right thing. 

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For most of the Black students attending TPS schools in North Tulsa, their futures look bleak unless they are attending Carver and or Booker T.

“I wasn’t smart enough to go to Booker T.,” how many times do we have to hear students give that painful, embarrassing reply to a simple question? 

I recall coming across a horrifying Facebook post from two years ago, joking about how the Black girls from Booker T. Washington High School were more desirable than the Black girls from other north side schools — highlighting the depth of the division that the disparity has caused in North Tulsa.

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We need these students to have pride in themselves and their schools. A new building or stadium doesn’t do that, academic ranking does. Colleges want students who are ready to engage in their rigor.  

So, who’s to blame for this mess that’s lasted for decades and has caused division in our community? 

Do we point fingers at the parents when the school system failed the parents a decade or two prior to failing their kids, too?

How about the schools, the teachers, and staff that don’t have the resources to deal with the misbehaving students who disrupt the others from learning in an over crowded classroom?

Do we blame the school district for not thoroughly educating its Black students? 

And when the schools are failing, do we just close them adding to the systemic blight caused by racial oppression? 

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We should be investing in Gilcrease in every way possible not closing this building and increasing blight.

Do we blame ourselves, as a Black community, for not having the political will to push and demand that Tulsa Public Schools’ Board of Education make hard changes that will reflect in its Black kids becoming competitive as White kids in the district?

Let’s not forget that the Brown kids are at the bottom? 

Someday I hope we will see that this is all connected. A blighting community with failing schools is vulnerable to ‘urban removal.’ 

We can either invest in these failing schools and become oneTulsa or we can continue being two cities, a city divide by race in every way — even in its student outcomes. 


Nehemiah FrankNehemiah 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. 

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Categories: Education, News