A pilot study of Montgomery County's school desegregation program indicates that a majority of county residents favor the concept of integrating schools, but an even greater majority still dislikes the use of busing to achieve this end.
The study, done last fall by eight George Washington graduate students under the direction of retired social psychology professor Ralph K. White, also indicates the program of desegregation has gone as well or better than almost everyone expected.
According to the study, 57 per cent of parents interviewed showed some favorable response to the idea of desegregation in the schools, but about 60 per cent of the 117 parents, students and teachers interviewed expressed some level of dissatisfaction with the idea of busing.
"If what they're focusing on is busing, it's clear that the majority doesn't like it," White said. He also noted that, "It looks as though a majority of these parents think that the advantages of desegregation outweigh the disadvantages of busing."
At the same time, White said, his researchers found that there was lingering resentment in the affected schools over the way the school board had arrived at its decision.
However, "the big uproar . . . has now died down," White added. Throughout his discussion of the report with a group of reporters earlier this week, White cautioned that, "Our study can't contribute too much that's conclusive because of the small sample."
The study then has most value, he said, as a somewhat impressionistic rendering of student, parent and teacher attitudes, with a backdrop of some valid results from a survey of 51 white parents.
Seven black parents were interviewed but White cautioned that because of the small sample the results had only impressionistic validity and that no statistical conclusions could be drawn.
According to interview with the parents, whose children went to one of three unnamed schools involved in the controversial desegregation effort, 49 per cent felt that a desegregation program helped fill a need that their childen should learn about different types of people.
"I really like the idea of my kids rubbing elbows with black kids, Chicano kids, getting involved with them as people," one white parent said, adding, "But busing is a disadvantage if it's too far."
Comments such as these, according to the report, greatly outnumbered such comments as "I don't like it. My children won't learn anything good from blacks."
The antibusing views held by 60 per cent of the White parents sampled were strongly indicated by such coments as, "I think busing is insane," "I'm against radical social experimentation with my children," and "I don't like being forced to do anything - it's socialistic."
Throughout the report, and throughout his discussion this week, White emphasized a potential problem with the entire study: that parents, even with a guarantee of anonymity, might not be completely candid about their feelings toward the program, and that teachers might feel even more pressure not to reveal their true opinions.
Of the 10 teachers interviewed, only one complained that desegregation had caused them extra work. "There has been a tremendous increase in discipline problems," the teacher said. "There were very few before. The kids con't listen and obey . . . Some students are less able than any have been in the past . . ."
After citing this answer, White's report notes that: "This raises a question: were some of the other nine less than candid in expressing negative feelings to an interviewer who came under official auspices?"
After interviewing some 43 children, about half of them kindergardeners and first-graders involved in the program, the researchers tentatively decided that the parental fears about children being bused long distances were not echoed by the children themselves.
"It's a lot of fun. You bump up and down," said one child, while another said, "It's fun cause I get to see my friends. My sisters walk to school but I'd rather ride the bus."
White's study was described at this week's discussion session as a pilot study designed to point out possible directions for an in overview study of desegregation planned by Daniel Solomon of the school's department of research and evaluation. Solomon is drawing up an attitude questionaire to send uo parents.
The first portion of Solomon's study, a controversial attitudes questionaire distributed to some students at 25 elementary schools in the area - 12 of them desegregated this year - is currently being processed.Results are expected by May or June.