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Panelist Defends Desegregation Study

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Washington--The chairman of the advisory board directing a national school-desegregation study sponsored by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission last week vigorously rebutted accusations by a former board member that the study is "flawed and biased."

David Armor, president of a California consulting firm, National Policy Analysts Inc., told the commission at its monthly meeting that the charges leveled by the desegregation researcher Gary Orfield, a political-science professor at the University of Chicago, are without basis.

Mr. Armor said Mr. Orfield, who resigned from the board last month, has since been acting in an "unethical manner" in urging school districts to stop participating in the study, which is focusing on the extent and the causes of "white flight" from desegregated school districts.

Mr. Orfield's actions, he said, could "sabotage" the research, which he called "one of the more important studies to come along in many years."

Mr. Armor, who has been a researcher with the Rand Corporation and a member of the sociology faculty at Harvard University, was joined in his defense of the study by Finis Welch, chairman of Unicon Research Corporation, the firm conducting the research, and by several of the commissioners.

Study Commissioned

The study, authorized by the civil-rights commission in 1983, initially was to examine several aspects of desegregation in addition to white flight--among them, magnet schools and the impact of desegregation on both white and minority students. However, at the January 1984 meeting of the commission--the first following its reorganization by the Reagan Administration--the desegregation study and several others initiated by the previous commission were redesigned.

The current $400,000 study includes on-site visits to 40 school districts, written survey questionnaires, and the collection of census data, enrollment records, and existing research on school desegregation. The study, which is expected to be completed next year, will examine the rates at which whites are leaving a variety of school districts with desegregation plans--as well as some districts without desegregation plans.

Mr. Armor said the study will provide data "that's never been collected on the national level."

Letter of Resignation

Mr. Orfield attacked the project last month in a letter of resignation addressed to Clarence M. Pendleton Jr., chairman of the commission. He called the research "so flawed and biased that it cannot be carried out in a way that will either be seen as professionally respectable or fair." (See Education Week, Oct. 30, 1985.)

Since his resignation, Mr. Orfield said last week, he has sent letters to a number of the 125 school districts involved in the study, urging them to end cooperation with commission researchers.

Mr. Orfield explained in an interview that he felt his name was unfairly used to convince school districts to participate in a study that had "changed drastically" since its inception.

Mr. Orfield was not invited to attend last week's meeting. He is, however, scheduled to testify before the commission next month.

Mr. Orfield charged in his letter that the study would be influenced by the political views of the advisory panel, which he said were largely conservative.

However, both Mr. Armor, who has testified as an expert witness against mandatory busing in numerous school-desegregation cases, and Mr. Welch denied that the study would reflect any political biases. Mr. Welch said that there is "always the potential for bias," but he added that "this is my reputation, my career."

In a Nov. 6 letter accepting Mr. Orfield's resignation, Mr. Pendleton said that "at no time have any of the advisers attempted to influence the conduct of the study. ... The study will represent an important contribution to the body of scholarly knowledge on school desegregation."

Mr. Armor also noted that Christine Rossell, who resigned earlier this year as principal investigator for the study, will replace Mr. Orfield on the advisory panel.

Mr. Orfield had asserted in his letter that Ms. Rossell, a professor of political science at Boston University and a noted expert on desegregation, had been "pushed aside."

Ms. Rossell was out of the country last week and could not be reached for comment.

William Taylor, former staff director of the commission and now director of the Center for National Policy Review, a civil-rights research organization, said that although Ms. Rossell is "a very able researcher, she has also hired herself out to the Justice De-partment in ways that lead to some questions about how seriously she's sticking to her own research. I don't think her continued association with the study gives it any additional credibility."

In response to queries from commissioners about the advisory panel's lack of minority representation--another criticism voiced by Mr. Orfield--Mr. Welch conceded that he "would be more comfortable" if minority members served on the committee, but said their absence "is not a crippling flaw."

Mr. Orfield also complained in his letter that the advisory board was not consulted when System Development Corporation, the California firm originally hired to do the research, was replaced by Unicon, another California firm that he characterized as "having neither any experience in school research nor any researcher with relevant experience."

At the commission meeting, Mr. Welch acknowledged that Unicon's staff researchers "are not experts in the field of school desegregation."

"Our reputation is for good analysis of large bodies of data," he said.

Mr. Armor said Unicon purchased the study contract from System Development Corporation last July after most of System Development Corporation's senior staff left. He said he felt there was no need to notify the advisory committee about the change.

Mr. Orfield also said in his letter that it became apparent at an August meeting of the advisory panel that a "great deal of data was missing."

Mr. Armor acknowledged that concern had been expressed at the meeting about data not submitted from some school districts--such as Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles--but noted that 88 of the 110 school districts in the study with desegregation plans had responded. The other 15 districts involved in the study did not have desegregation plans, he said.

He also said that even if all the school districts did not respond to the study's questionnaire, the research would not be seriously hampered because previous studies and Education Department surveys provide enough information on the plans of major cities.

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