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E.D. Takes 'Last Shot' on Its Research Agenda

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Washington--Officials of the Education Department's research branch, while describing themselves as "disappointed" with their 1988 appropriation, say they will go ahead this year with plans to expand the Education Resources Information Centers network.

The office of educational research and improvement will also launch several major statistical studies and release a new series of publications aimed at parents, according to department officials.

Meanwhile, the department will again try to persuade the Congress to allot more money for education research. It is seeking $81 million in oeri funding for fiscal 1989--up 20 percent over the current level.

The funds would support two new research centers as well as studies on school productivity, the effectiveness of the education-reform movement, student assessment, and values education, officials said in recent interviews and a press briefing.

An additional $76 million would support a restructured library program, marking the first time the Reagan Administration has requested any funding for library services.

"This is the last shot this Administration will have to set right this part of the federal education enterprise," said Chester E. Finn Jr., assistant secretary for educational research and improvement.

Arguing that conducting and disseminating research is one of the most appropriate federal roles in education, the Administration has repeatedly requested more funding for oeri while proposing cuts in most other programs. It is the only area in which the Congress has consistently appropriated less money than the department wanted.

For the current fiscal year, for example, oeri requested $70.2 million for nonlibrary programs and received $67.5 million--of which $3.8 million is earmarked for rural-education initiatives the department did not want to fund.

A large portion of the funds is earmarked for the center for education statistics, the only research unit to receive an increase from 1987.

More than a third of the center's $21-million budget will be spent on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which would be expanded to provide state-by-state comparisons under pending legislation.

Data By Race

The center will also launch three new studies this year that are intended to be repeated annually, and will take steps to improve its Common Core of Data--the department's basic compilation of statistics on such subjects as school enrollment, staffing, and financing.

The fall survey will for the first time ask state officials to break data down by racial categories, said the center's director, Emerson J. Elliott. Biennial surveys by the department's office for civil rights and one-time oeri initiatives have collected racial data, but have not included virtually every school district, as does the Common Core.

"Our traditional data measure 'How big is it,' rather than what kids are learning," Mr. Elliott said. "This is where our traditional and new agendas come together."

He said "users of the data," espe2p4cially state officials, had requested the change.

The new studies include:

A survey of teacher qualifications and working conditions, an area where Mr. Elliott said "there is virtually no nationally comparable data." The data should be in by December, he said.

A longitudinal study of 26,000 8th graders, selected by race, region, and school size to provide a representative sample. The students are to be followed through their secondary-school careers, a technique Mr. Elliott said will be particularly useful in tracking dropout rates.

A study of student financial aid.

Also on the agenda is an expansion of the network of university-based research and development centers overseen by the office of research.

The department expects to contract for a new center on school leadership this year, and hopes to add centers on the education of disadvantaged children and citizenship instruction next year, at a cost of $2.1 million.

The eric system is also due for expansion this year. Ray Fields, director of information services, the branch that oversees the network, said a competition will be launched this spring for the new components.

They include "Access eric," a dissemination facility designed to increase use of the system, and two or three "adjunct clearinghouses," small centers that are to focus on areas omitted or incompletely covered by existing clearinghouses.

Mr. Fields said possible subject areas include arts education, private schools, and education reform.

Department-sponsored reports will be highlighted this year by an upcoming sequel to the groundbreaking 1983 report A Nation at Risk.

Other reports will focus on character education and the effect of television on children.

In addition, oeri officials will unveil this week the first in a series of publications focusing on "helping parents help their kids."

The booklet to be released this week is on reading, a follow-up to the 1985 report Becoming a Nation of Readers.

Other parent-oriented publications are to focus on such topics as understanding school budgets and making the most of programs allowing parents to choose their children's schools, according to Mitchell Pearlstein, oeri's outreach director. These publications are to be printed in collaboration with school districts and education organizations, which will be named this week.

In addition, the department is planning a conference on "the family and education" for June.

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