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Ara Services Inc., the Philadelphia-based company best known for its food-services operations, has purchased Children's World, a national chain of 265 preschool centers.

The acquisition more than doubles ara's stake in the child-care field, boosting its holdings to 440 centers in 19 states. Kinder-Care Learning Centers, headquartered in Montgomery, Ala., is the largest commercial day-care chain, operating 1,100 centers in 40 states.

Harry Belinger, a spokesman for ara, cited market research showing that working women will continue to be one of the fastest-growing segments of the labor market and that the number of children needing day care will increase by 50 percent over the next decade.

He said his firm, which paid more than $100 million in cash for the Children's World centers, expects yearly revenues of $150 million from its preschool operations.

Despite the year-long effort by educational groups to promote greater understanding of the Constitution, a new study calls high-school students' knowledge of the document's historical and philosophical foundations "seriously flawed."

The study, conducted this summer by the California-based Center for Civic Education, found that students were generally fa6miliar with constitutional terms but did not understand what they meant.

Two out of three students tested did not know the essential difference between constitutional and dictatorial governments; 6 out of 10 did not know the meaning of "due process of law"; and 7 out of 10 did not know that, in the American political tradition, governments derive their authority from the consent of the governed.

The study is based on responses to a multiple-choice test administered to 599 students as part of preparations for a national competition developed by the center. Students participating in the competition, which will begin this fall, complete a three- to six-week course of study on constitutional principles, take a written test, and compete in mock Congressional hearings.

Soviet and American teen-agers will hold a "youth summit" via satellite in March to exchange information on their favorite fashions, rock bands, and other aspects of their daily lives.

The Public Broadcasting Service and the Soviet Union's Channel One will air the program live on March 11, originating from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., and a studio in Moscow.

The satellite exchange will be preceded on public-television stations by two national teleconferences, on Feb. 12 and Feb. 26, for American secondary-school audiences. They will include interviews with Soviet youths, questions from American teen-agers, and commentary by U.S. experts.

Vladimir Posner, a Soviet news commentator, will serve as moderator for the American students participating in the March satellite broadcast. Organizers have not yet named an American to moderate the program in Moscow.

The teleconference grew out of a model United Nations program run by Old Dominion. In 1985, a similar satellite broadcast linked schoolchildren in Minnesota with their counterparts in Moscow.

The National Urban Coalition has launched a demonstration program designed to stimulate interest in mathematics and science among minority and female elementary-school students.

Sponsored by the Shell Oil Company Foundation, the two-year program, known as "Say YES to a Youngster's Future," links schools with parents and community leaders who provide curricular materials, field trips, tutoring, and career counseling. It will begin this fall in 30 classrooms in Washington and Houston. Other cities may be added if funds are available.

Six states and the District of Columbia have signed an agreement to establish a multistate lottery that will offer much larger prizes than the states' own lotteries. Organizers argue that the higher jackpots will attract more players and thus more revenues for the states, which are seeking ways to finance education and other programs without raising taxes.

Lotto America, scheduled to begin in February, will offer top prizes of around $20 million, or up to $80 million if more states join, organizers predict. The states that have agreed to participate are Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Oregon, Rhode Island, and West Virginia.

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