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Belief in equal education falls in Little Rock, survey shows

by Cynthia Howell | April 25, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.
Panelists (from left), Cory Anderson, Gary Arnold and John Bacon applaud Elizabeth Eckford, a member of the Little Rock Nine, for her comments Tuesday at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. “We can never have true reconciliation until we honestly acknowledge our painful but shared past,” she said.

The results of a recent University of Arkansas at Little Rock survey on race, ethnicity and education show that a majority of black respondents who live in Little Rock -- 58 percent -- don't believe all children have an equal chance to get a good education in the city.

White Little Rock respondents, on the other hand, were equally divided on the question: 49 percent to 49 percent.

For both groups, the percentages of city respondents who think all children have an equal chance at a good education has dropped since a similar question was posed in the first year of what is now a 15-year-old study done by the university's Anderson Institute on Race and Ethnicity.

The institute released the latest survey results at an event Tuesday during which a panel of education, philanthropic and activist leaders commented on the results for an audience of about 100 in the Jack Stephens Center Legends Room.

There were 1,859 Pulaski County respondents and they were divided into five groups, depending on their race or ethnicity and whether they lived inside or outside the city. The individual groups contained between 389 and 446 respondents. There was a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 5 percent. The survey -- done in both English and Spanish -- was conducted between Aug. 31, 2017, and Jan. 19, 2018, by landline and cellphone to answer 25 questions acquired largely from the national Pew Research Center.

In 2004, the first year of the survey, 49 percent of black respondents in Little Rock believed that all children had an equal chance for a good education in the city. That declined to 42 percent in the most recent survey.

While 63 percent of white respondents in Little Rock believed a good education was available for all in the first year of the survey, that fell to 49 percent who thought so and 49 percent who didn't think so in the recent query. Sixty-three percent of the Hispanic responders to the latest survey said children of all races and ethnicities have an equal chance to get a good education. Hispanics were not questioned as a separate group in 2004.

The survey results also show that the percentage of black Little Rock respondents who strongly or somewhat agree that racial integration of schools benefits all races fell from 86 percent in 2007 to 61 percent in 2018. White Little Rock respondents who strongly or somewhat agreed that school integration is a benefit totaled 82 percent in 2007 and 83 percent in 2018. That is 86 percent for Hispanic respondents.

Those and other results from the survey -- including reaction to the state takeover of the Little Rock district in 2015 and grading of public, private and charter schools -- generated a spirited response from the panel and the audience Tuesday.

Cory Anderson, executive vice president of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and a panel member, said that a desire to see blacks, whites and Hispanics express similarly positive opinions and attitudes -- when job and other economic data show otherwise in central Arkansas -- is problematic.

"Our opinions -- whites, blacks and Hispanics -- are going to have to converge on the negative end of the spectrum before we are going to see real change in the systems that impact young people and adults," Anderson said.

"If some folks think that things are going just fine and other folks say 'things aren't fine for me,' then that leaves the systems to stay the same."

Gary Arnold, president of Little Rock Christian Academy, chairman of the board of the approximately 100-member Arkansas Nonpublic School Accreditation Association and a panel member, said he "was dumbfounded" by the declining percentages of survey respondents who believe a quality education is available for all students in Little Rock.

Arnold asked that there be no moat or wall between public and private education, as all educators want to lift students out of dire circumstances and invest in the good of the community. His own west Little Rock school has hired a director of diversity, resulting in a shift from 3 percent to 13 percent minority-group enrollment. His school provides more than $1 million a year in financial aid to students, he said.

Audience member Shirley Harvell of Forrest City said that private and public charter schools have siphoned resources away from traditional public schools and that there has been resegregation of schools. Arnold -- a 12-year resident of the state -- in response apologized for systemic white flight that was part of the Little Rock experience and said that he is willing, going forward, to dig deep for solutions.

Elizabeth Eckford, a panel member who was one of the Little Rock Nine black students who desegregated Central High in 1957, said that the quality of education must go beyond what many once needed to work in manufacturing jobs, many of which are now gone.

"People have to be willing to pay for that," Eckford said, adding that she is puzzled by people's willingness to vote against their own interests. "If you want real low taxes, do you want what comes with that for the majority of the population?"

Audience members Johnny Hassan and Joyce Williams were critical of what they see as the lack of progress in dismantling barriers. Williams called the United States a nation of hypocrites with no intentions of making things right.

Eckford said, "We can never have true reconciliation until we honestly acknowledge our painful but shared past." She added that that is a motto she wants on her tombstone.

Other panel members Tuesday were Anika Whitfield, a Little Rock School District activist, and John Bacon, chief executive officer of eStem Public Charter Schools Inc.

Panel moderator John Kirk, the director of the Anderson Institute and author of the survey report, said the annual survey "provides a mirror to a community and lets it see itself more clearly" and sets "the stage for asking why and what can be done."

Other results in the survey:

• The majority of respondents said that a district that is locally managed rather than state-managed has the best chance of improving student performance.

• The majority of respondents would give traditional public schools in their community a grade of either a B or a C, while they would give private schools a grade of A or B, and charter schools a grade or A, B or C.

• The majority of respondents perceive that economic conditions are the main reason a family decides to send children to traditional public schools, while a better education or curriculum is the reason a family chooses private school. Better education and environment is the main reason a family decides to send children to public charter schools, a majority said.

The annual survey results are typically posted on the institute's website:

Metro on 04/25/2018

Print Headline: Belief in equal education falls in LR, survey shows


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