Education

State of Black Education in Tulsa Schools and why Black parents choose charters

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KIPP Tulsa University Prep High School students shuffling through a small hallway meant to serve early childhood-aged children.


Published 11/07/2019 | Reading Time 5 min 58 sec 

By Nehemiah D. Frank, founder, editor, and director for the Black Wall Street Times

Have you ever flew into Tulsa International Airport at night? From above, you can gain insight into the politics of our city. 

Everything south of highway 244 illuminates into the night representing life and progress; however, when you look to the city’s northside from above, darkens engulfs the landscape allowing but a few dimming lights to shine into the ether.

When the plane lands, and you make the track home, where you reside may very well determine what kind of life-chances or opportunities you, your children, and grandchildren are able to attain. 

If you live north, opportunity is seemingly scarce. Nonetheless, it is your reality. You can choose to sit, trust, and continue to experience the aging, crumbling system that has gotten your community nowhere for nearly five decades or invoke the spirit of the Black Wall Street and support community-based organizations with positive, measurable outcomes, that will sustain and carry your likeness, and your dreams within, into another glorious period of Black progress.  

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Ellis Walker Woods Memorial commemorating decades of Black Excellence at Booker T. Washington High School before racial integration. 


An academically competitive school once functioned as the anchor and luminous beacon in the north Tulsa Black community. Hence, an academically high performing school is the engine and cornerstone that empowers and enhances the dignity of a people who attend, live proximate to, and are directly impacted by the great school. 

But, for those living without that scholarly lighthouse or a simple educational lantern that guides them to mental and physical freedom, they continue lurking in the darkness like enslaved people and face an uncertain future with little choice of avoiding the abundant stumbling blocks that life seemingly yields to the least privileged among us.  

That pedagogical light and literal-lifter — that once created Black American dreams in north Tulsa and sustained the Black excellence that produced the Black Wall Street — has seemingly burned out, ushering in an intellectual and economic dark age for the majority of Black Tulsa students and their community. 

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According to the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s website, during the 2017-2018 school year, none of Tulsa Central High School’s Black students tested proficient or advance in English or Math. (see full report here


Black Tulsa students, some who can trace their lineages back to their community’s golden era, are being denied access to their constitutional birthright to be thoroughly educated and academically competitive to the likes of their White peers — 51-years after Tulsa began racially desegregating its schools. 

The ill-educating of Black students in Tulsa is the unspoken and undisclosed civil rights violation that’s casually taking place in a city that witnessed the worst kind of crime against humanity in its past — a race massacre.

From the highly sought after and select magnet schools, receiving the most support, to the seemingly forgotten school houses fearing a possible shutter amid a 20-million dollar school district, budget shortfall — the majority of Black students today aren’t being pushed to their full academic potential in Tulsa’s traditional public schools, when in their yesteryears during their community’s Black Wall Street heyday, community-led schools produced an abundance of academic excellence that replenished a Black educated workforce and sustained Black economic prosperity. 

Yet all isn’t lost. There are bright spots in traditional public schools in Tulsa today; however, for the city’s Black students, we see the best academic gains and outcomes for Black students in Tulsa’s public charter schools, some operating within the Tulsa Public Schools’ district. 

TPS Public Charter School (grades 6 – 8) 

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TPS Public Magnet School (grades 6 – 8) 

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Traditional TPS Public School (grades 6 – 8) 

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In 2018, Monroe Demonstration Academy Black student population was 63.1-percent. 

(see full report of any Oklahoma school here)


Black students attending KIPP Tulsa and a few other area public charter schools had a higher percentage of proficient and advanced test-takers than their Black peers attending traditional public schools in Tulsa; moreover, public charter school Black students at these schools had a higher percentage of advanced test-takers than their Black peers attending the city’s magnet schools. 

The historically black high school, Booker T. Washington, once a neighborhood school, turned magnet with special enrollment criteria, is undeniably one of the top-academically performing institutions in the nation. However, without a deeper dive into the racial demographics in the academic performances of its students, on the surface, the school superficially appears as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s greatest dream actualized. 

Unfortunately, his vision continues to be deferred when only 5-percent of Black Booker T. magnet school students tested advanced when compared to the 32-percent of White Booker T. magnet school students who tested advance in 2018. 

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(see full school report here)


According to the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s website, in 2018, 66-percent of Booker T.’s Black magnet school students didn’t reach proficiency in English or Math, while 81-percent of the school’s White magnet school students tested proficient or advanced.

While Tulsa’s Black community continues to wait on a transparent plan that will actually close Black-White academic gaps in Tulsa traditional public schools, Black students in Tulsa shouldn’t be made to wait on a plan. They need to be pushed and thoroughly prepared now, and to their full academic potential, because the world isn’t going to wait on them. They are still Black and in America, and they need to be academically competitive, so they can survive in tomorrow’s economy. 

With intentions of creating a high-performing school that pushes students to their full potential no matter what race they are, KIPP Tulsa and north Tulsa community members opened a public high school with a class of ninth-graders at the Oklahoma State University campus in north Tulsa in 2018. 

During their first year, every student took their ACTs and enrolled in at least one Advanced Class. Since opening, their Black students have seen significant gains in academic growth. Their ninth-graders increased their ACT scores by 3-points in their first year of preparing. Hence, KIPP is closing the academic gap between Black and White Tulsa students.  

But as their student population expanded into upper classes in 2019, the school was relocated out and away from the north Tulsa community, across the Arkansas River, past the oil refineries, and now operates in an early childhood center in west Tulsa — making it more challenging for Black families seeking a quality high school with better academic outcomes for their Black children to access.

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KIPP Tulsa University Prep High School students shuffling through a small hallway meant to serve early childhood-aged children.


Furthermore, operating out of an early childhood center isn’t an ideal setting for high school students. KIPP students, and their majority Black student body, with their majority Black teaching and administrative staff, deserve to be home and rooted in the north Tulsa community. KIPP, after all, is a free, open-enrollment public community high school. 20-percent of the KIPP high school student body is on an IEP (Individualized Educational Plan). Hence, all students are welcome. 

While these students, teachers, and administrative staff are deserving of a building in the north Tulsa community on account of their hard work in closing academic gaps between their Black students and their students’ White peers, and because KIPP is a public charter school and not a traditional public school — and in spite of the fact that it operates transparently under the Tulsa Public School district, KIPP Tulsa schools as well as a few other area public charters have been ‘othered’ and accused of privatization of education all while employing a majority Black teaching and administrative staff, and serving a majority Black student population. 

I would argue that if public charter schools that are created, supported, and attended by members of the Tulsa Black community, and further supported by community partners, are what privatization of education looks like — for those who are anti-charter — then let KIPP Tulsa high school, a model that works for Black students, march forward so they can thoroughly educate their Black scholars, and whoever else’s child chooses to attend their school of actual excellence.

After all, why should Black students in north Tulsa be denied the right to be thoroughly educated and academically competitive when it was the result of White supremacy in Tulsa that contributed to the failing inner-city schools today? 

Consider this: The Tulsa Public Schools in today’s pupil dollars loss roughly 114 million when 12,300 White students moved to the suburbs during white flight between 1968 and 1973 while TPS began to desegregate racially. 

Public community charter schools, attended by a majority Black student population, aren’t responsible for sucking the cash out of traditional public schools in Tulsa — that would be the White families who chose not to allow their White children to attend schools with Black children. 

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(see full desegregation process and white flight of Tulsa Public Schools here)


Why should Black students who live in north Tulsa have to wait for the traditional public schools to implement a plan that actually works and competitively prepares them for their future because some people are afraid of failing traditional public schools losing more pupil dollars? 

Black children should not be used as commodities to save traditional public schools when traditional public schools are not looking out for them and thoroughly preparing them to the likes of their White peers.

It could be as little as three years or several decades before a plan that actually works for Black students in Tulsa’s traditional public schools is vetted, tested, and implemented. 

If KIPP Tulsa High School has better academic outcomes for Black students than traditional Tulsa schools, let them continue to close academic gaps between Black Tulsa students and their counterparts. Give them an empty building in their north Tulsa community or make space for them in another building and allow them to continue lighting the path to academic competitiveness that will illuminate another age of Black economic prosperity so they can lift their community out of its current academic and economic dark age. 

Petition for KIPP Tulsa University Prep High School to be hosted in north Tulsa


lip_9760-1Nehemiah D. Frank is the founder, executive editor, and director of The Black Wall Street Times, a digital news media company that believes access is the new civil right. He graduated with a general studies degree from Harold Washington College in Chicago, IL, and a political science degree from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and was a member and chapter president of the Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society. Today, he is a blogger for Education Post, and a board member for the Tulsa World, Tulsa Press Club, and Tulsa’s Table. He is also a public school educator at a local community-led charter school and is a member of Superintendent Joy Hofmeister’s Education Task Force for Equity and Inclusion. In 2017, Frank became a Terence Crutcher Foundation honoree, a recipient of the 2017 METCares Foundation Community Impact Award, a 2018 Black Educators Fellow and gave a TED Talk at the University of Tulsa.

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