Author’s Note: I know all kids matter but right now I’m talking about the black kids.
Published 09/17/2019 | Reading Time 3 min 34 sec
By Nehemiah D. Frank, founder, director, and executive editor
Like many Tulsans, I woke up on a weekday morning to begin my workday, grabbing my phone, and scanning through my social media feed. I know, it’s probably not the best habit to have first thing in the morning. Needless to say, I start every morning, regardless if it’s a weekday or not, skimming social media where I occasionally find shared news articles.
That particular morning I came across an article in the Tulsa World titled “Study finds 64% of Tulsa-area students lacked access to high-performing public schools in 2017-18.” As an educator, the damaging yet alarmingly truthful headline intrigued me.
Like a good puppet, I clicked the article, falling for the headline. The teacher in me couldn’t get past the heading.
After all, I wondered what criteria would be used in the report to define a high-performing public school. I also queried if the piece would mention the section of town were the under-performing schools were located, which would give me some indication on racial gap demographics.
The first editorialization reported within the article purports that a quarter, or 25%, of Tulsa-area students, attended low-performing schools two years ago, while about 35% went to high-performing schools, this is according to a study by the IFF, which investigated access to quality education in grades K through 12 in the Tulsa metro area.
The article defined “schools that received an overall A or B grade are designated as high-performing,” and “schools that received a D or F are low-performing,” and “[schools] that earned a C” grade as “bubble schools.”
Firstly, I remember a C grade as being average. I’m not sure how to comprehend “bubble.”
Furthermore, the article stated: “Of the 124,685 area students attending traditional public and public charter schools in 2017-18, 25% were enrolled at low-performing schools, according to the study,” schools that received a grade F or D. “Another 31% attended bubble schools,” schools with a C average-performing, “while 36% were at high-performing schools,” schools that received a letter grade B or A. “The remaining 8% of students were at schools that did not receive a grade,” these were probably schools that didn’t yet receive a letter grade from the Oklahoma Department of Education because they didn’t offer grades 3 or above, which are the grades Oklahoma students receive the Oklahoma School Testing Program test.
I thank the writer for highlighting this critical issue in the Tulsa World, but to my dissatisfaction, the article never mentioned race. I understand that all kids matter, but let’s talk about the reality of the fact that most schools in urban areas across the country are comprised mostly of minority students and that includes the Tulsa Public School district.
Fortunately, the article did somewhat satisfy my personal need to identify if black Tulsa was disproportionately affected and plagued by the low-performing schools. And the answer to my quest was yes — “those demonstrating the highest need for school improvement are concentrated primarily in north Tulsa,” the black side of town.
We need not be afraid to talk about race when it comes to the education of our children because race has always been a social determinant for success in American culture.
Why in the hell are our majority-black schools in Tulsa still suffering? After all, we started integrating Tulsa Public Schools in the late ’60s and ’70s. During Tulsa’s segregated years, black children were thoroughly educated within the safety ‘nest’ of the Greenwood District. For decades black children would grow in intellect, becoming adults and contributing to Black Wall Streets’ golden era. Yet today in 2019, black Tulsa finds itself believing this false sense of promise that our children will have it better tomorrow because yesterday we as a little city within the larger city of Tulsa built the wealthiest black community in the African diaspora, and we did it without the help of white leadership.
Hence the need for more partnership schools within the local public school district and public charters, schools that are nearly and independently designed with a cultural competency component that’s also racially inclusive and rejects the separatist and white supremacy ideologies.
For years white liberals and seemingly blind black folks ignore the data that say that public charter schools are outperforming public schools. The Tulsa World article hints at this fact, too. “Of the 10 charters that received a grade, 40% were high-performing.” Deborah Brown Community School and Sankofa School of Creative and Performing Arts received a B grade and are considered high-performing schools. KIPP Tulsa received a C grade. In my opinion, KIPP Tulsa should also be regarded as a high-performing school when compared to the other schools that serve a majority black student population in the Tulsa area.
Lastly, the article highlights that “Fifty-three of the 198 public schools in the Tulsa area were designated in the study as high-performing. The majority are traditional public schools; 8% are charters. Only one — Booker T. Washington High School — received an A.”
There are black educators in Tulsa who were pissed that I mentioned that Booker T. Washington High School shouldn’t be the only school that produces black excellence and it’s quite sad that they took my intention or aim in my write up the wrong way. But I’ll try again; Booker T. Washington High School should not be the only school in Tulsa were black students receive a high-quality education nor should the public charter schools.
Karen Gaddis is a Democratic member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Gaddis represents the 75th district, which serves portions of Tulsa.
I hope that the people will be louder this year when it comes to demanding that our state legislators allocate adequate funding for the schools that are suffering the most — THE BLACK SCHOOLS!
You can see the Tulsa World article here: Study finds 64% of Tulsa-area students lacked access to high-performing public schools in 2017-18
Nehemiah D. Frank is the founder & editor in chief of The Black Wall Street Times. Frank is also a blogger for the Education Post network. He’s a graduate of Harold Washington College and Oklahoma State University. Frank is highly involved in community activism and is also a public school educator. In 2017, Frank was a Terence Crutcher Foundation Honoree and has been featured on NBC, Blavity, and Tulsa People. Among his many accomplishments, Frank is a TED Talk Alum, and a board member at the Tulsa Press Club and Tulsa World.