This week, the head of the Education Department's research office will hold the first in a series of meetings with scholars and educators to help him decide the fate of government-funded research on the issues of teacher quality and effectiveness. That much is certain.
But exactly whom Chester E. Finn Jr., the assistant secretary for educational research and improvement, will meet with and just what will be on their agenda is a mystery.
Late last month, Mr. Finn announced that he would not award a five-year grant worth about $4 million to fund a research and development center on teacher quality because none of the proposals that the department received merited the award. At the time, he said he would hold a series of meetings with outside experts to help him devise "a comprehensive program of research into many aspects of teaching," including those topics that were to have been the focus of the ill-fated center on teacher quality.
An official in the assistant secretary's office confirmed last week that Mr. Finn would hold his first consultations on Dec. 18 and 19.
The official, however, declined to name the experts who would participate in the meeting, saying that the list was incomplete. The staff member also said that the meeting would not be open to the public.
Mr. Finn "sees this as an informal consultation, and in order to keep the discussion frank he wants it without outside eyes looking on," the official said.
James Bencivenga, director of information services in Mr. Finn's office, added that a decision was made to close the meetings to the public because they may involve discussions of the grant proposals for the center, which are confidential information. Furthermore, he added, some of the consultants were also members of the two peer-review panels that judged the proposals, another factor in favor of keeping the meetings private.
In a related development, the director of a research center on teaching at the University of Texas at Austin said last week that the institution did not plan to appeal Mr. Finn's decision to award a $6-million grant to Michigan State University to operate the department's new center on teacher education.
The Texas school's Research and Development Center for Teacher Education was one of five incumbents that lost in the competition for grants to operate the department's new system of centers. According to informed sources, the contest between Texas and Michigan State was the closest of the entire competition, with their proposals evenly ranked at the conclusion of the first tier of the review process. Mr. Finn awarded the grant to Michigan State after rejecting the advice of the second tier of reviewers that no award be made.
Ray Wormwood, the director of oeri's contracts office, said the University of Texas and several other competitors have requested debriefings, which would give them a chance to examine the winning proposals and see how the two review panels rated their proposals.--tm