Central on HBO
I found the HBO special on the anniversary of Central High's desegregation to be very moving in many ways. I was particularly impressed by one of the Little Rock Nine who returned to Little Rock Central and confronted the self-segregated student seating in the one classroom. She correctly pointed out that we are a long way away from Martin Luther King's “I have a dream” version of the way the world should be.
A great deal of emphasis in the special was placed on the disparity in average test scores between the white and black students at Central. Nancy Rousseau, the principal, seemed brought to tears by her struggle to change this. I have had two children attend Little Rock Central and cannot understand Nancy's tears. The basic reason for the difference being so great is that what success that Little Rock Central has achieved in retaining white students has been secured by offering an elite, mostly white, academy that just happens to co-exist inside of and with a typical urban, mostly black, public high school. This seems to be the 300-pound gorilla in the corner that no one wants to talk about.
The truth is that the average white student has mostly left Little Rock's schools to attend private schools in the county or public schools in adjoining counties. The reason that the non-AP classes at Central are mostly black is not because whites are mostly a lot smarter than blacks. The ones who are smarter have stayed. The ones who aren't, left. The reason that most of the white kids at Central don't have to ride the bus is that most of their parents are doctors, lawyers, architects, business leaders, etc. and they can afford to furnish them with a car as well as a positive home environment. If you took the AP class enrollment at Central and dropped it into Cabot, Conway, Bryant, or any other suburban mostly white public high school, there would be a great difference in the Central AP student's test scores and the average (white, black, whatever) other student's average test score.
Yes there is a general difference in overall white versus black student test scores in our nation. Although the difference is nowhere near as great as at Central, it is a reality. The root causes start in the home or lack thereof of the students and the economic success of their families. Those do have racial discrimination among their causes. As Nancy correctly points out, when they come to Central in the ninth grade with a third-grade reading ability, there is not much they can do to remedy this.
The reality in Little Rock Central is that it is mostly economic factors not racial bigotry that divides the students. The one black student featured in the special who appeared to have “normal” parents with a good income seemed to have no problem crossing the ethnic divide portrayed at Central. He seemed very comfortable with the kids in his mostly white neighborhood with similar parents and homes. The disparity in economic conditions is the main culprit in the lower black test scores, not some failure of the educational system at Central.
Larry Hacker wondered when Arkansans would revolt against our relatively high taxes. I would like to be a little more specific and ask when the good citizens of North Little Rock are going to revolt? Not only does NLR have a city sales tax one cent higher than neighboring Little Rock, it also has a one-cent higher “hamburger” tax! Why does North Little Rock need so much more money than other cities?
But, OK, someone has to be highest. What really gets my goat is the fact that North Little Rock runs its own electric company. That's right, everyone in North Little Rock and Sherwood pays his electric bills to the city of North Little Rock. And let me tell you, a profit is being made by the city. What every person in North Little Rock should be asking of their mayor is, “Where does all the money go?” With the highest tax rate in the state AND an electric company to draw money from, what is being done with the money? I have talked to many people in North Little Rock that have had a $400 or $500 electric bill this past month. And businesses are paying even more. Can you imagine what a boost to the economy it would be to have every household spending $4,000 extra last month? That is what they would have had to spend to generate $400 to $500 in tax revenue. The difference is that the city gets that entire $400 from the electric bill whereas most of the $400 collected in tax revenue would go to the state or county. Why does North Little Rock need so much more money than other cities?
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