Study evaluates methods of US school desegregation

By , Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

The Reagan administration may be letting communities set up red lights to mandatory "busing" as a means to achieve school desegregation. But "regardless of what the administration does, there will be hundreds of school systems involving millions of students who will still be going about the business of school desegregation."

So says Willis D. Hawley, dean of Peabody College at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. Dr. Hawley released the findings of a significant seven-year study on the status of desegregation in the United States and the strategies to make it more effective at a news conference here Sept. 15. He chaired a panel that conducted the study.

The panel's findings, contained in a report entitled "Assessment of Current Knowledge about the Effectiveness of School Desegregation Strategies," were based on analyzing more than 1,000 previous desegregation studies and commentaries, reviewing 10 specific court cases, and evaluating the effectiveness of desegregation in 6 school districts "representing different geographic areas and cultures," Dr. Hawley said.

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The report comes at a time when forced busing is under new attack. After three years, the Los Angeles board of Education, in the nation's second-largest school district, has dropped its busing program after the California State Supreme Court upheld a constitutional amendment that stops busing unless school segregation had been deliberate. And in Chicago last week, the Justice Department approved a plan that delays forced busing until at least 1983 while "voluntary" measures are tried.

But Dr. Hawley maintained that although the Reagan administration opposition to busing will certainly "slow down" some individual desegregation efforts, he doesn't believe there will be a wholesale "reversal" to the trend that began slowly and at times violently after the US Supreme Court ordered an end to segregated schools in 1954.

This study and subsequent report was funded by the Office for Civil Rights and the National Institute of Education of the US Department of Education. What the report tries to do is identify strategies that seem to be the most effective in moving toward the "goals" desegregation is meant to achieve, such as improving the academic performances of minority students and reducing the racial isolation of all students.

Members of the study team included widely respected desegregation experts from across the nation such as C. Anthony Broh of Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., Christine H. Rossell of Boston University, and Charles B. Vergon of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

Among the major findings:

* "Desegregation should begin at the earliest possible grade." However, Dr. Hawley said that this recommendation faces the strongest opposition from many white parents who would rather leave a community than send their children to a desegregated school.

* "Mandatory student reassignment plans are an effective way to reduce racial isolation even though they result in greater white flight than do voluntary plans." The report also concludes that so-called "phased-in" desegregation plans tended to produce more white flight out of the school districts being desegregated than immediate desegregation.

* "Maximize the efficiency of the assignment and transportation process." The report concluded that if pupil assignments and transportation are done "efficiently and smoothly," more white parents may support desegregation.It suggests that bilingual personnel, for instance, be assigned to school buses to avoid confusion and clarify instruction.

* Local neighborhood leaders "should be encouraged to play a more positive role in desegregation controversies" as a means to produce more public support for desegregation.

* A community's preparation for desegregation ought to include a "maximum number of parent visits to other-race schools" as a means of enabling parents to better support their children who are directly involved in desegregation.

* Voluntary desegregation, such as what will be tried anew in Chicago, is not "an effective strategy in reducing racial isolation in districts with small proportions of minority enrollment."

Dr. Hawley cautioned that these findings and recommendations will nor work "in all circumstances. To produced the best benefit for students and communities, the strategies should be adapted to local conditions."

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