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E.D. May Delay Million-Dollar Grants To New Research Centers on Teaching

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Washington--A panel of experts has advised the Education Department not to award multimillion-dollar grants for the establishment of two research and development centers devoted to teaching, a senior department official said last week.

Rumors that the department had serious reservations about funding the two centers on teaching sent a shock wave through the education-research community late last week. The department's network of 12 research centers, which will cost over $65 million in the next five years, forms the backbone of the federal government's education-research effort.

Following the panel of experts' criticism of one grant proposal, the department is unlikely make an award for the Center on Teacher Quality and Effectiveness, according Ronald P. Preston, acting deputy assistant secretary for educational research and improvement.

He added that officials have yet to make a final decision on the panel's recommendation against awarding a grant for the Center on Teacher Education.

All three schools of education--affiliated with the University of Texas at Austin, Michigan State University, and Vanderbilt University--whose grant applications are in question participate in the Holmes Group, a consortium of education deans from 39 research universities formed to upgrade the teaching profession.

In addition, informed sources said last week that competitions for the grants to operate the Center on Effective Elementary Schools and the Center on Education and Employment were particularly close. Chester E. Finn Jr., the assistant secretary for educational research and improvement, reportedly will visit the finalists in the competitions this week before making his recommendations to Secretary of Education William J. Bennett.

Surprising News

A number of observers said last week that it was curious that the department would consider not funding the two centers at a time when much of the debate regarding the quality of American education focuses on the status of the teaching force.

The department was scheduled to announce the winners in the competition for the centers last Friday. Mr. Preston said in an interview that the announcement was delayed because of the uncertainties surrounding the centers on teaching and because competition for other contracts was so close that no decision had been made.

The announcement has been rescheduled for Nov. 22, said James Bencivenga, director of information services in the research office.

The department will probably hold a new competition for the center on teacher quality, the only one that is certain not to win a contract this year, said Mr. Preston.

Mr. Preston said no decision had been reached on the center on teach-er education because two review panels issued conflicting recommendations.

Under the two-tiered peer-review process set up for the competition, technical-review panels composed of people outside of the government were created to judge the grant proposals for the 11 centers. (The grant for a 12th center on educational technology was awarded to Harvard University last year.)

In the next stage of the process, a second panel of outside experts judged the recommendations of the technical-review panels.

According to Mr. Preston, the panel reviewing the proposals for the teacher-education center concluded that two finalists--the University of Texas at Austin and Michigan State University--had proposals worthy of winning the contract.

But the second tier of reviewers recommended that neither of the universities be awarded the contract, according to Mr. Preston.

A member of the second panel, Carol Weiss, a senior researcher at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, declined to discuss the review committee's decision or its reasoning. "We were asked to keep the substance of our meetings confidential, and I'm abiding by our agreement," she said.

Teacher-Quality Center

In contrast to the conflicting views on the applicants for the teacher-education center, both review panels recommended against awarding a contract to the only finalist for the teacher-quality center, according to Mr. Preston.

The sole competitor in this segment of the competition was the Peabody College for Teachers at Vanderbilt University. Mr. Finn was professor of education and public policy at the university before coming to the department this year.

"How can we disregard the peer-review system," said Mr. Preston, explaining that "it would be very hard right now to fund the teacher-quality proposal."

"That doesn't mean there won't be a teacher-quality center," he said. "It's just that a winner won't be announced when the others are named."

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