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Published 11/27/2019 | Reading Time 4 min 21 sec
By Nehemiah D. Frank, founder, director, and executive director
The Booker T. Washington Hornets received an over grade “A” on its 2018 – 2019 state report card, making the school seemingly appear as one of Oklahoma’s most exceptional academic institutions among the state’s high schools. Truth be told, Booker T. is one of the best high schools in the nation.
A top-performing school in a predominantly Black neighborhood that has — on the face of it — integrated, and, to all appearances, is academic thriving.
“We are the only district in Tulsa County who has a high school with an ‘A,’” a representative from Tulsa Public Schools (TPS) responded via an email to a recent open letter that the Black Wall Street Times published from one of the district’s teachers.
To the general public, things are professedly well in the hive.
Nevertheless, and as the saying goes, history has a way of repeating itself. When you begin peeling the layers of the onion away, you start noticing the racial disparities in academic success at the magnet school.
Of the Booker T. Washington HS Black magnet students who took last year’s OSTP assessment, only 50% tested proficient or advanced in English Language Arts, which is great in comparison to the Black students at the other two majority Black high schools. However, when compared to their White magnet counterparts, they are still behind. 91% of Booker T.’s White students tested proficient or advanced on the ELA portion of the test. 83% of Black Booker T. students did not test proficient in Math, while only 9% of the magnet schools White students did not meet proficiency in Math.
If equality and excellence are part of the standards at Tulsa Public Schools (TPS), why are so many TPS Black students not performing to the equivalents of their White counterparts in a city that has had so much racial tension that it inspired a new HBO television series called the Watchmen?
It is widely known that Booker T. is a historically Black high school that became integrated under the condition that it become a magnet school. Hence, back then, the school had to be good enough for White people’s children to attend. Trust me; it was as painful to write as it was for you to read it, we know that is the hard truth.
According to the TPS website, “The district began to bus in White students while continuing to allow students who lived near the school to attend as well. This changed Booker T. from a neighborhood to a magnet school as it is known today.” Today, not just any Black student can attend Booker T. like back in the day.
In response to the districts’ horrifying performance, the TPS representative added, “We are the only district in Tulsa County who had high schools increase their grades. Overall we had 10 schools increase their grades includ[ing] McLain! *SUPER EXCITING*. Only 7 of our schools went down a letter grade. So we had more schools improve their grade than decrease their grade.”
It is okay to highlight the bright spots, but TPS, as well as other districts and the state, need to acknowledge and take ownership of the fact that they are failing the majority of Black students, all while burning out compassionate teachers who are reaching out and trying to actually make a difference.
A teacher from a TPS school spoke truth to power in an open letter, revealing how district teachers and students of color are set up to fail, saying, “I literally feel like at TPS, we are set up for failure. I am complicit in this evil system of continually failing children of color, and quite frankly, the only thing I know to do is quit.” The teacher then added, “A few years in the public school system has left me depressed and feeling 20-years older than I actually am. If I am a trained educator who has had a passion for teaching for as long as I can remember, and I can’t hang on, who can?”
The low academic performance in the other majority Black schools in north Tulsa and across the state proves why drastic measures need to take place. Black families, in general, deserve options, not more anti-public charter school rhetoric from community leaders who don’t have a vision or thorough-understanding of how the continuation of White Supremacy remains un-dismantled in the 21st century 65-years after Brown v. Board of Education.
In North Tulsa, there are only two high schools for Black students if they don’t get into the magnet school Booker T. Washington: McLain and Central high schools — where over 98% of both schools’ Black students did not meet proficiency in Math or English — yet graduation is up.
At the new KIPP High School, KIPP Tulsa University Prep, every student is encouraged to take Advanced Placement classes. Moreover, KIPP HS students begin preparing for their SAT tests in the 9th-grade. Unfortunately, although KIPP HS serves a majority of students that reside in North Tulsa, the school currently is not located in North Tulsa.
KIPP Tulsa University Prep Students
Perhaps the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) should have stayed at the state capital longer during their teacher walkout and ensured that there was sufficient funding to hire more thoroughly-trained educators, so our disadvantaged communities — that are predominantly Black and Latinx — could implement smaller class sizes for our Black students, who tend to have higher ACEs scores due to systemic racial abuses and the continuation of White Supremacy in the state.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott lasted 381 days, in comparison to the 2018 Oklahoma Teacher Walkout, which only lasted 10 days. When you advocate for Black lives and for other communities of color, know that you’re always going to have to advocate a lot longer than just 10 days.
Racial equity in education is providing Black students with smaller class-sizes with a 15 student max, regardless if students in majority White schools have 20 or 25 students per class.
Racial equity in education is providing teachers with more support via teacher assistance, and high needs schools with certified therapists — who are trained in dealing with students who experience trauma.
Racial equity in education is providing future teachers of color a more accessible pathway to the classroom.
Racial equity in education is providing students of color with schools that are working and by placing them within communities of color so they can have access to them.
Educational justice and equity for Black children is eliminating unfair academic gaps, due to systemic racism, by putting a plug into the summer slide through implementing mandatory academic summer ELA and Math programs for children attending schools that tend to perform basic or below on the OSTP assessment, which are usually Black and Latinx schools.
Lastly, become a year-round advocate for Black and disadvantaged students at the local and state level by pushing for anti-racist educational policies that will ensure that all children succeed academically no matter their race or the zip code they reside in.
Nehemiah 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, based in Chicago, IL, 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.