Senate Witnesses Disagree About Effects of Integration
Washington--U.S. senators, who have been arguing for more than 15 years about the constitutionality of school busing, discovered last week that researchers are having similar difficulties reaching agreement on busing's effects on students.
Eight scholars appearing at a Senate subcommittee hearing--among them some recognized as the most distinguished "experts" in school desegregation--were repeatedly asked for "conclusive evidence" and "consensus" on the effects of court-ordered busing. The scholars, who have conducted and analyzed some of the more than 1,200 studies of busing compiled in the past 10 years, responded with conflicting opinions.
The researchers had been assembled by John P. East, Republican of North Carolina, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Separation of Powers, who last month introduced a bill that would prohibit lower federal courts from ordering busing. The bill, S. 1647, brings to 20 the total number of anti-busing measures introduced in the 97th Congress.
Herbert J. Walberg of the University of Illinois said evidence about the effects of desegregation on student achievement "remains inconsistent and controversial."
Mr. Walberg, who said he has analyzed "hundreds" of busing studies, said "the 50 or 60 percent of studies that show positive results are insufficient to show statistical significance or to encourage any reasonable hope of improving student achievement by busing, since busing ...works about as often as turning up 'heads' in flipping a fair coin."
He argued that because busing "diverted financial resources as well as the time and energies of educators, parents, and students" away from classroom learning time, schools should concentrate on improving student achievement rather than on implementing desegregation plans.
Willis D. Hawley of Vanderbilt University, head of a 16-member panel that recently completed a seven-year analysis of desegregation studies (see Education Week, Sept. 21, 1981), countered that minority students in desegregated schools are "three to four times more likely to have made positive achievement gains" than students in segregated schools.
"A common assumption is that desegregation has contributed to the widely proclaimed decline in test scores nationally. But youngsters from the Southeast, clearly the most desegregated region, have shown increases in test scores compared to the students in more segregated regions," Mr. Hawley said.
Ralph S. Scott Jr. of the University of Northern Iowa, criticized Mr. Hawley's recent study--which conluded that school desegregation can improve learning and race relations--because it was federally sponsored.
"The objectivity of this study was compromised from the start" by grants from the U.S. Department of Education, he said.
The effects of "white flight"--the process of white parents moving from cities to suburbs, or withdrawing their children from public schools, to escape school integration--was another point of contention among the researchers.
John Michael Ross of Boston University cited as examples the cities of Boston, Los Angeles, and Seattle, in concluding that "there is a large increase, at least twice and typically three to four times, in the expected loss of white students when court mandated desegregation occurs."
This was disputed by Reynolds Farley of the University of Michigan, who said that although other cities, such as Chicago, New York, Atlanta, and Washington, experienced large-scale losses of white residents, ''very few--if any--children were reassigned and bused to achieve integration."
White families generally move to the suburbs because of phenomena not related to busing, such as the "natural" desire of families for more attractive housing, and local and state housing and mortgage incentives, said Charles T. Clotfelter of Duke University.
Mr. Clotfelter also said he advocated "metropolitan" desegregation plans, which involve the busing of students between a city and the surrounding suburbs. Such plans, he said, "have been relatively successful in keeping a stable school population over time," whereas "city-only" busing plans "are more likely to cause white relocations."
James M. McPartland of Johns Hopkins University said an overwhelming dilemma of school desegregation is that, while most parents "approve the principle of desegregated schooling...citizens appear to think about busing in their own localities in terms of the direct costs and benefits as they see them."
He advised the senators to consider the long-term benefits of desegregated schools, citing a study that showed black males who attended desegregated high schools were more likely than their counterparts in segregated schools to pursue "mainstream" careers.
"Minority students who graduate from desegregated schools have been found to feel a greater sense of control over their own fate and a more positive sense of opportunity," he said. On the other hand, he said, "students from segregated schools are more likely to be found later in life in segregated colleges, neighborhoods, and places of work."
The researchers seemed to recognize the political implications of their opinions. Some concluded their testimony with a statement of support, or of distaste, for Senator East's and other proposed anti-busing measures.
Meyer Weinberg of the University of Massachusetts--whose research in support of busing is frequently cited by other scholars--warned Mr. East that the allegations made by the North Carolina senator and others against school busing "do not seem to constitute a solid base for the making of public policy."