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N.I.E. Awards $56 Million for 6 Research Labs

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Washington--The Education Department recently awarded contracts totaling $56 million over five years for the operation of the bulk of its system of educational-research laboratories.

Secretary of Education William J. Bennett announced the winners of six of the lab contracts on July 30, but postponed the awarding of contracts for the northeastern and western regional labs because of exceptionally close competition. The winners of the final two contracts were to be named late last week or early this week.

The department's announcement of the six awards marked the final stage of a process begun two years ago when the National Institute of Education announced that the contracts and grants for its labs and research and development centers would be opened for competitive bidding for the first time. The grants for the 11 centers are to be awarded in November.

Combined, the estimated $135- million in awards to the labs and centers represents the largest procurement in the department's history and will constitute well over half of nie's budget through 1990. The laboratories identify and help solve regional education problems, while the centers focus on education topics of national concern. Together, they form the core of the government's educational-research effort.

"We still had many valid questions after the review process was completed," Emerson J. Elliott, nie's acting director, said last week of the delay in the announcement of the final two lab awards. Mr. Elliott had been directed by the Secretary to form a seven-member panel, drawn from the members of the two panels that had earlier narrowed down the field of competitors, to make the final selections.

Five of the six announced winners in the competition previously held contracts to operate the labs. The newest contractor is the Southeastern Regional Council for Educational Improvement of Research Triangle Park, N.C., which will operate a lab in a newly created region.

A $7.5-million contract for a ninth lab--the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory in Elmhurst, Ill.--was awarded by the department last September. The consortium that won the award included the chief state school officers from the region, the deans of Big 10 colleges of education, the University of Chicago, and the land-grant colleges and universities in the area. (See Education Week, Sept. 26, 1984.)

A total of 33 applicants submitted planning proposals to nie after the competition was officially opened in July 1984. The research agency8awarded planning grants to 21 prospective applicants, 17 of whom submitted final applications.

Chester E. Finn Jr., who was recently sworn in as the department's assistant secretary for educational research and improvement, indicated that he was less than pleased with the quality of the final applications.

"A number of outside reviewers who examined the laboratory proposals noted that they were not so strong as had been hoped," the assistant secretary said in a prepared statement announcing the names of the winners. "[S]ome lacked a clear vision of the nature and role of a regional laboratory; some lacked coherence in their plans and structures; some lacked precision or clarity of expression."

Mr. Finn noted that his agency would be "imaginative, energetic, and demanding" in its monitoring of the laboratories' performance.

The winners of the five-year contracts and the amounts of their awards are:

Mid-Atlantic Region (Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania): Research for Better Schools, Philadelphia, $11.6 million.

Appalachian Region (Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia): Appalachian Educational Laboratory Inc., Charleston, W. Va., $7.5 million.

Southeastern Region (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina): Southeastern Regional Council for Educational Improvement, Research Triangle Park, N.C., $7.6 million.

Southwestern Region (Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas): Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, Austin, Tex., $7.4 million.

Central Region (Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming): Mid-Continent Regional Educational Laboratory, Kansas City, Mo., $7.2 million.

Northwestern/Pacific Basin Regions (Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, American Samoa, Guam, Hawaii, Northern Mariana Islands, Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands): Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, Portland, Ore., $14.8 million.

Awarded in September 1984:

Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin): North Central Regional Education Laboratory, Elmhurst, Ill., $7.5 million.

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