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E.D. Has Plan To Revitalize National Information Data Bank

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WASHINGTON--The Education Department has unveiled a plan to redesign the network of Educational Resources Information Centers that officials say would make the databank service available to a wider audience.

The plan, made public last week, calls for the creation of a body to promote, market, and develop training programs for the 20-year-old system.

Officials also said the proposed restructuring is designed to foster closer cooperation between ERIC, the most widely used educational databank system in the nation, and the department's office of educational research and improvement.

In addition, they said, the reconfiguration is intended to promote greater participation by private organizations and institutions in ERIC activities, including the archiving and dissemination of certain types of materials.

'Less Cumbersome'

"We hope that we have begun to make this system less cumbersome,'' said James Bencivenga, a spokesman for the O.E.R.I. "Most conscientious users of ERIC will see this as a positive step, a positive development.''

Plans to revitalize the ERIC system, made up of 16 centers located primarily on university campuses and organized by educational specialty, have been widely discussed during the past year. In the past, the ERIC network has been criticized for its lack of visibility to the general population and for its inaccessibility to educators and others who are not trained to use the system.

The department is soliciting comments on its latest proposal until April 24, and the system's final reconfiguration is expected to be announced about June 15.

New Center for Statistics

Under the proposal, the ERIC network would continue to maintain 16 federally funded clearinghouses.

However, two centers--those dealing with counseling and personnel services and with educational management--would be merged into one clearinghouse focusing on school professionals. In addition, a new center, specializing in educational statistics, would be created; it would be housed in the department's existing center for statistics.

Mr. Bencivenga said an earlier plan, which engendered intense controversy primarily because of its proposal to reduce the number of clearinghouses, was shelved because "you need to have that many centers to have subject-matter expertise.''

The new plan, sent to 2,200 educators, education groups, and policymakers last week in an effort to prompt comment, calls for the creation of "ACCESS ERIC'' to provide "systematic coordination, training, materials development, and outreach awareness activities designed to make ERIC services and products accessible and useful to a greatly expanded audience.''

The plan said ACCESS ERIC would make the databank available to journalists, policymakers, and educators who do not currently use the system.

Closer Ties Proposed

The latest proposal also urged the establishment of two mechanisms to tie the ERIC network more closely to private organizations, associations, and institutions.

An organization could become an "adjunct clearinghouse,'' and, after a one-time grant of $50,000, it would collect and disseminate materials, at its own expense, in areas that ERIC does not currently cover.

Or an organization could become an "ERIC Partner,'' and publicize the information system and distribute ERIC-developed materials to its constituents.

Donald P. Ely, co-chairman of the council of ERIC directors, said his organization was disappointed with the proposed changes. While the group was pleased that the department wanted to create ACCESS ERIC, he said, it was concerned that the proposed consolidation of existing clearinghouses would "destroy the integrity of the system.''

Mr. Ely, who is also the director of the ERIC clearinghouse on information resources, at Syracuse University, said his group also believed that the report's proposed name changes for several of the clearinghouses was "capricious and without reason.''

"It really doesn't do anything, but it does confuse users,'' he said.

Mr. Ely said the system needs additional money, not a redesign plan, to be more effective. For the past five years, ERIC has received the same annual federal appropriation of $5.8 million. For the fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1, the department has asked the Congress for $6.1 million to pay for the program.

The council planned to release a statement early this week on the proposed changes.

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