Mandatory Busing More Effective Than Voluntary

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Contrary to the contentions of some members of Congress who seek to limit the use of compulsory busing for school desegregation, mandatory desegregation plans are more effective in reducing racial isolation than are voluntary plans and do not appear to cause more "white flight'' in the long run than voluntary techniques, according to a Vanderbilt University study.

Enrollment Data Analyzed

Mark A. Smylie, a doctoral student at the university's George Peabody College for Teachers and a research assistant at its Institute for Public Policy Studies, analyzed enrollment data from 1968 to 1980 from 49 of the country's largest school districts. Each of the districts had more than 30,000 students; each had minority enrollments constituting between 25 percent and 75 percent of their total student population; and each had put into effect one or more desegregation plans. The data were supplied by the U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights.

Of the 52 desegregation plans studied (some districts used more than one plan over the 12-year period), 39 were classified as "mandatory,'' meaning that students were reassigned to schools outside their neighborhoods to promote racial balance; and 13 were termed "voluntary," meaning that students elected to change schools.

Reducing Racial Isolation

The study concentrated on only one goal of desegregation--reducing racial isolation--and did not address educational outcomes.

Among the major findings of the study, which was to be released today:

Over time, districts with voluntary plans lost approximately the same proportion of white students as did systems in which student reassignment was compulsory.

In districts with mandatory plans, "white flight" tended to be greatest right around the time of implementation, then leveled off--what Mr. Smylie termed a "hiccup effect." Under voluntary plans, the study found, the decline in white enrollment was less pronounced at the beginning, but the decline was steadier over time.

"Long-term similarities in declines in white proportion of student enrollment suggest that over time these losses are less a factor of the type of desegregation plan than of other factors, such as public reaction to desegregation in general, differential birthrates, and demographic trends of urban and suburban areas," the report says.

The losses of white students in districts with voluntary plans could be due in part to the threat of mandatory desegregation, Mr. Smylie added. In several districts, mandatory plans have been imposed after voluntary plans failed to reduce racial isolation, and previous studies have shown that many white families leave public schools in anticipation of mandatory busing.

In large districts with mandatory student-assignment plans, individual schools were much more likely to reflect the racial makeup of the district as a whole.

Mandatory plans were more effective in reducing the number of "racially identifiable minority schools"--those in which minority-group students made up more than 90 percent of the enrollment.

Under voluntary desegregation plans in Houston, Flint, Mich., and, this school year, in Los Angeles, Mr. Smylie found, the number of racially isolated schools actually increased.

Districts under mandatory plans tended to maintain higher levels of desegregation over time than did districts using voluntary techniques.

"The propositions underlying current legislative initiatives to limit or prohibit mandatory student assignments to schools for desegregation are not supported by the desegregation experiences of the nation's largest school districts since 1968," Mr. Smylie wrote in a summary of his research.

Vol. 01, Issue 23

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