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Despite Protests, E.D. Lets Contract For Research Center to Johns Hopkins

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Washington--The Education Department has awarded the contract for its new Center for Research on the Education of Disadvantaged Students to Johns Hopkins University, apparently without responding to a strongly worded protest from 10 unsuccessful bidders about the handling of the competition.

Johns Hopkins will receive $1 million in the first year of the five-year contract. Total funding during that period could reach as high as $7.4 million, the department said in its Feb. 8 announcement.

In a Jan. 13 letter to Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos, representatives from 10 universities asked that the department delay the award and conduct an investigation of the review process.

"We are deeply concerned over a number of procedural and substantive issues involved in the process," the letter said. "Our concerns are strong enough that we believe the award process must be stopped before the public announcement of the decision has been made."

Milton Goldberg, director of the department's office of research, denied last week that there were any improprieties in the grant competition.

Criteria Questioned

The signers of the letter said they were unsure of the criteria used to judge the proposals.

They asked the department to inform them as to whether the original criteria outlined in the requests for proposals were used, or whether the criteria were replaced during the review process by another set recommended by the House Subcommittee on Select Education.

Representative Major R. Owens, chairman of the subcommittee, charged last September that guidelines under which the proposals were requested "appear to have been hastily conceptualized and were published in flagrant opposition to the carefully developed consensus of experts in the field." (See Education Week, Sept. 21, 1988.)

Mr. Owens said he would issue a statement this week about the department's decision to proceed with the grant award.

In response to an inquiry from Education Week, Mr. Goldberg said the original criteria were used in the competition.

Review Panels

The bidders asked to be told how many review panels had screened and judged the proposals and how the panelists were selected.

In addition, the bidders said they were concerned that they did not receive any follow-up inquiries after submitting their proposals.

"Was the winning proposal so clearly superior to all of the rest that the normal post-submission inquiry and clarification process was superfluous?" the letter asked.

"I've heard nothing from the department since submitting our proposal," said one signer, Lamar Miller, executive director of the Metropolitan Center for Research and Development at New York University, in an interview last week. "Everything I've heard has been by rumor."

Another signer, Kathryn Borman, associate dean for graduate studies in research at the University of Cincinnati's college of education, said that throughout the process, the department had not returned her phone calls.

"We wouldn't know anything if we didn't have a capable lobbyist in Washington," she said.

Bidders interviewed said that8even though the letter asking for written responses to their concerns was sent to Mr. Cavazos, they had not been contacted by the department. Some were not aware that the award had been announced.

The signers had also requested a debriefing conference for all interested competitors before the announcement was made.

In addition to New York University and the University of Cincinnati, other institutions that signed the letter were Ohio State University, Portland State University, Temple University, the University of California at Santa Barbara, the University of California at Santa Cruz, the University of Chicago, the University of Houston, and Yale University.

The center will be the first federally funded research entity devoted solely to examining the educational needs of disadvantaged students.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins have proposed to work closely with large urban school districts, including Baltimore, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Washington, in conducting the research.

Some of the research topics include the optimal group size for tutoring educationally disadvantaged students, the effects of cooperative learning strategies, an analysis of dropout-prevention programs, and the effects of grade repetition.

According to the proposal, the center will also be active in promoting collaboration between researchers and practitioners, both in designing and conducting the research and in disseminating the findings.

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