Segregation in modern-day Tulsa schools based more on income than race, panel says (Tulsa World)

By Andrea Eger

Marking the 60th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to end racial segregation in public schools, a panel of community leaders on Thursday examined dramatic shifts in Tulsa’s modern-day segregation patterns.

“We see that our schools are far from integrated, but they are not racially monolithic, either,” said David Blatt, executive director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute.

“There has been a notable diffusion of poverty.”

About 100 people turned out for the forum, “Are Tulsa Schools Re-segregating?” which was sponsored by the Dan Allen Center for Social Justice and held at the Rudisill Regional Library.

Historical, demographic data presented by Blatt and fellow panelist Laura Ross White, with the Community Service Council of Greater Tulsa, showed that school segregation is no longer just a question of balance between black and white student populations.

While there remains an inordinate number of Tulsa school sites where black students make up more than half of the total enrollment, schools across the county are becoming much more diverse because of dramatic surges in enrolled Hispanic and Asian students.

Ross White said a “minority-majority shift” is occurring in Tulsa, illustrated by the fact that as of 2012, 58 percent of Tulsa residents were Caucasian/non-Hispanic, compared to 90 percent in the 1960s.

“Racial segregation has now become more of an income segregation,” she said. “The real problem is we have not addressed the social supports. We see social isolation in pockets of populations without transportation and easy access to food.

And the cultural competencies of teachers needs to be improved.”

Ed Martinez Jr., a founding member of the Greater Tulsa Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said he is more concerned with educational excellence than with whether schools are segregated by race or ethnicity.

“I’m not bothered by that term ‘segregated,’” he said. “I’ve lived through 60 years of integration, and I’m sorry, I don’t see any difference. I don’t see any improvement. When we went to integrated schools, it cost us neighborhood schools.”

He called for a formal coordination of all of the community programs that have sprung up to serve Hispanic students and their parents and for a greater emphasis on increasing Hispanic parent involvement.

“Until we involve parents, our educational efforts are going to be destroyed. They have to recognize they are that third leg on a three-legged stool,” Martinez said.

Jocelyn Payne, executive director of the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation, recounted her own educational history as a Tulsa Public Schools graduate and wondered why desegregation hasn’t led to greater equity in resources and quality across the district.

“The expectation was that if schools were desegregated, all schools would fare better and, particularly, black schools would fare better,” she said.

“I would like to offer the thought that in any given neighborhood, the school should be the beacon. The school facility should be the best thing kids get to see.”

Payne questioned how sites in the same district could be so different in terms of the physical plant, as well as things such as the number of teaching positions being covered by long-term substitutes. She said that sends a powerful message to students about their worth and the importance of their education.

Tulsa Superintendent Keith Ballard said the inner-city school district’s diversity is its greatest strength, and he said he believes focusing on improving instructional quality for all students and offering a variety of choices is the way to serve such a diverse population.

“It does take all of us to ensure we have a strong school system,” Ballard said. “It ought to be a natural migration. When people get up in the morning, they don’t have to look for a better educational experience. …

“Every school should be beautiful,” he said, “and through the use of magnets and really good choice programs, we will achieve diversity. It will happen because of people’s choice, not from anything that is forced.”

He noted that more than 88 percent of Tulsa Public Schools students now qualify for free or reduced lunches based on their home income levels, and he called on everyone in the community to “stand up” not only for greater resources but also to help schools address chronic student absenteeism and tardiness.

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