“You might say that shows a big imbalance in the schools,” Kirk said. “On the other hand, you might say that litigation and federal oversight has helped to keep a third of the white students in the district.”
Since the 2011 data on early college performance was collected, Suggs said, the district has changed the administration of the city’s worst-performing high schools.
“You will be able to note the difference … with the understanding that this is a marathon and not a sprint,” he said.
The connection between housing patterns and the district’s racial makeup is one reason why today’s problem is much more complex than simply ending segregation laws that prohibited black and white students from learning together. Those were the laws that Faubus was fighting to uphold when he called out the state National Guard and stood in the Central High School door to prevent the first black students known as the “Little Rock Nine” from enrolling.
The end of such laws means that “the number of segregated public schools in the United States today is zero,” said Roger Clegg, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity. “There is no public school in which by law only children of a particular race are admitted.”
“There are schools that have a de facto racial ‘imbalance,’ but that’s very different,” he said by email. “Racial imbalance can happen for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to housing patterns that have nothing to do with racial discrimination. That is a distinction with a very big difference.”
Others, however, see such imbalances as unacceptable for any reason.
Gary Orfield, co-director of the Civil Rights Project at the University of California Los Angeles, said that a pattern of whites moving out of black cities, several Supreme Court decisions and the end of various desegregation efforts have created “resegregation” of schools across the country along racial and poverty lines.
“It’s a tragedy for the country,” Orfield said.
“We’re not doing anything much to actually produce lasting integration of our schools or our neighborhoods,” he said. “That needs to be defined as a goal for the country, if we’re going to be this profoundly multiracial country and not be profoundly unequal.”
Anderson, the university chancellor, said the settlement opens the door to new opportunities.
“Let new indigenous mechanisms and processes emerge,” Anderson said. “Let the superintendent, the principals and the teachers do their jobs with a minimum of oversight. Take away the excuses offered by all the micromanagement that has come from all levels — court, state, school board, and district central administration.”
“Little Rock’s school challenges are not so great,” he said, “that the community cannot get its arms around them.”
(AP Photo: In this Monday, Jan. 13, 2014, file photo, a school bus is parked near Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Ark.)