A judge in one of the nation’s longest-running school desegregation cases released the Little Rock district from federal supervision Friday, nearly 50 years after President Eisenhower sent in troops to escort nine black students into all-white Central High.
U.S. District Judge William R. Wilson Jr. said the district is substantially complying with a 1998 desegregation plan worked out in the 27,000-student district.
With blacks gaining a majority on the school board last September, the judge said he felt comfortable ending supervision and confident that the district would keep working to improve academic achievements among its 19,000 black students.
In 1957, despite a U.S. Supreme Court order, Gov. Orval Faubus tried to thwart black students from enrolling at Central High, setting off one of the biggest crises of the civil rights era. Eisenhower sent in the 101st Airborne to enforce the order.
A final sticking point had been whether the district was adequately measuring black students’ test scores to determine whether they were improving. Late last year, the district adopted a resolution that said it would continue to assess the progress of black students even if the district was not under court supervision.
In Little Rock, as is the case nationwide, black students on average score below their white classmates on standardized tests. The gap in Little Rock is as large as 40 points on both state and national standardized tests. There has been some improvement over the years, but many argue there hasn’t been enough.