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Midwestern Universities Lead Race for N.I.E.

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Washington--Several Midwestern universities apparently have moved to the front of the pack in the competition to land a total of $65 million in grants over the next five years to operate the National Institute of Education's 11 research and development centers.

Universities in Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin this month received 14 of a total of 36 grants of up to $15,000 each from the institute to further refine their grant proposals, marking the end of the first stage of the competition for the centers. They were led by the University of Chicago, which won a planning award for each of the three centers that it has bid on.

Multiple Award Winners

Other multiple award winners included Teachers College at Columbia University with three, and The Johns Hopkins University, The Ohio State University, and the University of Michigan, each of which won two awards.

Institutions in the Chicago area fared particularly well in the first stage of the competition, winning a total of five awards. In contrast, only three institutions in the South and none at all in the Pacific Northwest won planning funds. According to the nie, which has yet to officially release the names of the planning-award winners, a total of 111 insti-tutions from all parts of the country applied for the funds.

Only two of the 11 institutions currently holding grants to operate nie-funded centers--the University of Illinois at Champaign, which houses the Center for the Study of Reading, and the University of Oregon at Eugene, which houses the Center for Educational Policy and Management--failed to win planning awards.

In the second stage of the competition, 11 technical-review panels composed of educational researchers from outside the government will review the proposals of the planning-award winners and all other institutions vying for the grants to operate the 11 centers. Once these reviews are completed, a separate program-review panel also composed of independent reviewers will examine the 11 technical-review panels' work and make recommendations to the director of the nie and the Secretary of Education, who will make the final decisions on who wins the grants. The entire process is to be completed by Sept. 30.

At an Advantage?

Although nie officials have gone to great lengths to emphasize that institutions other than those that won planning awards are still in the competition, Congressional aides and other observers have pointed out that the the planning-award winners have several distinct ad6vantages over the rest of the field.

The most obvious advantage, they noted, is the money that the winners now have to fine-tune their grant proposals with. In addition, they said, the same 11 panels of reviewers that judged the award winners' work favorably in the the first phase of the competition will be judging their work again in the initial part of the second, "institutional" phase of the competition.

"Psychologically, it will be hard for anyone who lost to get up a head of steam," noted E. Joseph Schneider, executive director of the Council for Educational Development and Research, an organization composed of the existing laboratories and centers. "The real advantage in winning is that the people who will make final decision are the same ones who made the planning awards."

Winning a planning award "is a good preliminary indication that you have a good chance" of winning the final competition, added John Craig, acting chairman of the University of Chicago's education department.

"These things are always a big gamble, especially in a two-tiered competition such as this one," he continued. "There was a sense here that if we didn't get a planning award we would abandon the hunt."

Now that the university has won three such awards, Mr. Craig said that it intends "to go hell-bent for leather" for each of the three final grants.

Political Pressures

Mr. Schneider and other observers of the competition noted that the ''clustering" of planning awards in certain geographic regions and at institutions such as the University of Chicago and Teachers College could place the nie in a politically difficult position.

They contended that although in theory the grants for the centers are to be awarded solely on merit, the politics of large federal programs dictate that federal largesse generally be distributed throughout the country.

"When the final awards are made, you may hear some very unhappy senators and congressmen saying, 'Why weren't we good enough to win these awards?"' Mr. Schneider commented.

"If you see a concentration of grants in a small area of the country, yes, people will be upset," said an aide to a Democratic member of the House Education and Labor Committee.

nie officials said that, to date, no one has attempted to exert political pressure on the agency to give a grant to one institution over another. Said one agency offical of the potential for such pressure in the future, "We'll cross that bridge when we get there."

"The awards are being made on basis of quality," said the official. "Obviously, we are not going to load up any single institution. We want to elevate this competition to a higher plane. This is, after all, a basic-research agency."

The competition is rooted in a report accompanying a federal spending measure passed in June 1981. In that report, Congressional leaders directed the Education Department to cease its longstanding policy of awarding the grants to operate the centers on a noncompetitive basis.

They also ordered similar competitive-bidding procedures for the nie's eight regional educational laboratories. Planning grants in that competition were awarded last December and winners of the competition will be announced this June. (See Education Week, Dec. 12, 1984.)

The $65 million in grants to operate the centers represents the single largest procurement in the Education Department's history. Observers also note that in addition to guaranteed funding for five years, a great deal of prestige is at stake in the competition, given that the existing centers support many of the leading researchers in their fields.

The winners of the planning awards, and the centers for which they are competing, are:

Center on Teacher Education: California State University System; University of Kansas; Michigan State University; and University of Texas at Austin.

Center on Teacher Quality6and Effectiveness: Teachers College, Columbia University; State University of New York at Albany andSyracuse University; and Peabody College for Teachers, Vanderbilt University.

Center on Student Testing, Evaluation, and Standards: University of California at Los Angeles; Northwestern University; and Western Michigan University.

Center for the Study of Writing: University of California at Berkeley; University of Chicago; University of Illinois at Chicago.

Center for the Study of Learning: Northern Illinois University; The Ohio State University; and University of Pittsburgh.

Center on Effective Elementary Schools: University of Houston; The Johns Hopkins University; and State University of New York at Buffalo and The Network Inc., Andover, Mass.

Center on Effective Secondary Schools: University of Chicago; The Johns Hopkins University; Teachers College, Columbia University; and University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Center on Education and Employment: University of Chicago; University of Michigan; Teachers College, Columbia University; and The Ohio State University.

Center on Postsecondary Management and Governance: University of Maryland; National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, Boulder, Colo.; and University of Pennsylvania.

Center on Postsecondary Teaching and Learning: University of Denver, University of Hartford; and University of Michigan.

Center on State and Local Policy Development and Leadership in Education: Stanford University; Florida State University at Tallahassee; and Rutgers University.

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