Doors of Little Rock public schools are open wide to black students 49 years after desegregation. But black students tend to leave those same schools behind their white counterparts by the measure of standardized test scores.

This is just one illustration of the sorts of issues that could — probably should — be on the table for discussion at the forums scheduled to observe the desegregation anniversary in September 1957.

A wide range of factors leads to performance disparities among students — economics and social class, school funding and parental involvement. Without examining how these factors figure into specific results (a disproportionate number of black students in the Little Rock school district qualify for free- and reduced-price lunches, for example), the gap is real in Little Rock, Arkansas and nationally.

What we don’t have is a comparison with achievement in 1957, when schools were separate and unequal in Arkansas and universal education was not yet a fact of life in every segment of the community.

All the same, here’s an illustration of the gap in the Little Rock School District, based on 2005 figures on the state benchmark exam, and the statewide numbers:

Grade Eight Literacy


Race Percent Proficient* Race Percent Proficient*

White 78 White 66

Black 36 Black 35

Hispanic 42 Hispanic 46

Grade Eight Math


Race Percent Proficient* Race Percent Proficient*

White 52 White 43

Black 8.3 Black 9.6

Hispanic 15 Hispanic 25

*Percent of students at or above proficient level


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