Chapter Five

Similarities and Differences in African-American and White Opinion

Early in its work the Task Force decided that it needed to know the similarities and differences in African-American and white opinion on school-related issues. The Task Force asked the Institute of Government at UALR to conduct a community survey for this purpose. In order to confirm the results of African-American opinion, the Task Forced asked the Institute of Government to conduct a second survey of African-American households only, perhaps a first in survey research in Arkansas. The Institute of Government also assisted in developing and tabulating a questionnaire mailed to all teachers in the Little Rock School District (LRSD). This chapter reports the findings of these surveys.1
Citizen Attitudes

Contradictions in the LRSD Image

Opinion surveys conducted in March and April of 1996 reveal simultaneous support for and strong criticism of the Little Rock School District. (For all the numbers, see Appendix E, which provides complete data from Task Force surveys.) African-American and, particularly, white households indicate dissatisfaction with the general direction of the public schools. However, when responding specifically to questions about public schools attended by their children, parents (African-American and white) were very positive about the LRSD.

The question which immediately suggests itself is, "How can citizens hold such positive and negative beliefs about the public schools at the same time?" One explanation is that the survey findings reflect the opinions of two different subgroups. Almost three of every four households in the LRSD now have no children enrolled in the LRSD. This trend also holds nationally and is spawned by "empty nest" households (homes with children grown and gone), single-person households, rising enrollment in private schools, or a combination of these factors.

Evidence of no-child homes in the LRSD is reinforced by the random sample in this survey, which identified only 121 of 564 white households to be LRSD families. In other words, only 21.4 percent of white households interviewed had any recent direct experience (via their children) with the LRSD. African-American households in this research recorded a 46 percent rate (160 of 400 homes interviewed) of LRSD enrollment, a figure much higher than for whites but which still demonstrates the point that a great majority of homes in the LRSD do not have school age children or children who are enrolled in the public schools.

The significant point for readers of this data is that these surveys report the opinion first, of all households in the LRSD and, second, of households with a child in an LRSD school. Highlights below summarize the contradictory views of these two groups.

Differences of Opinion Over Desegregation

The surveys probed citizen commitment to racially integrated public schools as well as views on alternatives to achieve this end. Fifty-six percent of white households favored "sending my child to a racially integrated school" as did 68 percent of African-American households.

However, beyond the comforting majority sentiment about this goal, the survey showed fundamental differences of opinion regarding how best to racially integrate the public schools. Disagreements between African-American and white households were greatest on the following points: