Adequately funding Oklahoma schools and thoroughly educating every child in the state is becoming more of a liability for the state’s future than past decades. Careers involving science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are in higher demand than in previous years. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that over the next decade, math-heavy occupations will increase by as much as 28% across the nation.
Currently, Oklahoma students aren’t ready for tomorrow’s STEM economy, especially the state’s Black students. According to data from the Oklahoma Department of Education, Black Oklahoma students have consistently scored lower than their white counterparts in Math and Science; moreover, even Black students from affluent families on average scored lower than non-Black students.
In Science, Black Oklahoma students scored 29-percent lower than White Oklahoma students. Their average Math score was 25-percent lower than the average score for White Oklahoma students. Outside the classroom, Black students are more likely to encounter toxic stress leading to their low academic outcomes.
The Economic Policy Institute defines toxic stress as events or conditions accelerating everyday stress:
“severely frightening or threatening — especially when they are sustained or frequently repeated — and when protective factors are insufficient to mitigate the stress to tolerable levels. Then, toxic stress can produce not heightened focus, but the opposite result, a decrease in performance levels.”
Nationally, 61-percent of Black children have at least one adverse childhood experience (ACE) compared to 40-percent of White children.
Some contributing factors to adverse childhood experiences are children with a parent or guardian who served time in jail or prison, been the victim of violence, witnessed violence in his or her community, experienced the death of a parent, and or whose family experienced economic hardship.
According to The Sentencing Project, in the U.S., Oklahoma has the highest incarceration rate of Black men and women, contributing to higher ACE scores for Black Oklahoma students whose parents are serving time. Coupled with the high incarceration of Black Oklahomans, a 2019 Human Rights Watch report found that Black Oklahomans were more likely to have higher adverse encounters with the police, more likely to live in a food desert and more likely to experience the loss of a parent than their White counterparts.
Oklahoma leads the nation for childhood trauma and is the highest for Black children in the state, and higher trauma leads to lower academic performance for Oklahoma’s Black students.
Although it’s difficult to stimulate positive outcomes outside the classroom, the state’s Department of Education recently approved a $3.29 billion budget request for Fiscal Year 2021, a $117.9 million increase to be used in the hiring of additional teachers with the goal of reducing classroom sizes, which should put more counselors into the schools, provide resources that facilitate rapid school and academic improvement, competitive grant pools that increase districts’ access to a variety of reading, math, robotics and other student success programs, in addition, alternative education programs to reduce dropout rates and increase graduation rates.
There is, however, no indication that Oklahoma schools with majority Black student populations will receive additional funding from the state’s Department of Education as it relates to low Math and Science scores for Black Oklahoma students. A recent press release was unclear if counselors will be used to treat students with ACEs.
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