Citing Bias, Inadequacies, Orfield Quits Panel's Study on School Desegregation
A national school-desegregation study by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is "so flawed that it cannot be carried out in a way that will either be seen as professionally respectable or fair," an advisor to the commission wrote last week in a letter of resignation.
Gary Orfield, professor of political science at the University of Chicago, said in a six-page letter to Clarence M. Pendleton Jr., chairman of the commission, that he was resigning from the study's advisory committee because the undertaking "no longer has any relationship to the description and study brochure that were used to obtain state and local participation in the research."
He also urged all school districts involved in the study to end their cooperation with commission researchers.
The letter, a copy of which was obtained by Education Week, was dated last Friday.
In the letter, Mr. Orfield charges that the desegregation study has been "drastically changed" since he first agreed to serve on its advisory panel, that the methodology and data being used are inadequate, and that panel members are trying to promote their own political viewpoints.
Under present circumstances, Mr. Orfield said, the study will be "a totally inadequate effort conducted by a staff lacking the essential training and experience needed for the job, advised by an expert with very strong conflicts of interest and prejudgments on the basic research questions, and reporting to a commission which is openly hostile to urban court-ordered desegregation plans requiring busing."
Mr. Pendleton, who said he has not seen the letter, declined to comment.
The five-member advisory panel was established in September 1984 to oversee the design and implementation of the commission's $400,000 national school-desegregation study. The study is examining in particular the rate of "white flight" from desegregated school districts.
Of the five advisory-panel members, Mr. Orfield said, three--David Armor, president of National Policy Analysts Inc.; J. Michael Ross, a desegregation consultant in Washington; and Nathan Kantrowitz, a New York-based demographic consultant--were known for their conservative viewpoints.
Mr. Orfield, whose research on the Chicago public schools has delineated the long-term social consequences of segregated schooling, charges that decisionmaking in the commission's study has gradually shifted to a group with political biases and little expertise.
Originally, he said, the study was contracted to System Development Corporation, a respected research and development group
Christine Rossell, a professor of political science at Boston University and an expert on desegregation, was selected to be the principal investigator on the research staff.
After holding its initial meeting in September 1984, the advisory panel did not meet again for almost a year.
"During that time," Mr. Orfield charged, "the study was drastically changed."
He was notified last July, Mr. Orfield said, that the contract with System Development Corporation had been transferred to Unicon, a firm he characterized as little known and having "neither any experience in school research nor any researcher with relevant expertise."
Furthermore, he said, the transfer of the study, to his knowledge, took place with no public request for proposals and no bidding process.
Ms. Rossell, cited by System Development Corporation as "the most experienced researcher on desegregation and minority isolation," resigned from the study this year, because, she said, she had been "pushed aside," according to Mr. Orfield.
He also criticized a questionnaire drawn up by Unicon to obtain missing desegregation data from schools in the study.
Those who wrote the document, he said, gave "no serious attention to the comments of the advisory committee that it would be highly unlikely that whoever filled in the questionnaire in a given school district would be competent to answer accurately questions about the details of desegregation plans implemented a decade or more ago."
Mr. Orfield questioned in his letter the value of any information obtained through the study. At best, he said, the project would "deliver a set of new statistical equations estimating white flight after desegregation plans under certain specified assumptions, equations unlikely to add much to the hundreds already in the literature which were created by researchers with more substantive knowledge of the field."
"At worst," he concluded, "this project might produce suspect findings arrived at through a suspect process and actively employed by a hostile Administration to limit the rights of black and Hispanic children."