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The Education Department's research operations need to be strengthened to assume an expanded role in education reform, Christopher T. Cross, the department's new assistant secretary for educational research and improvement, said at his swearing-in ceremony last week.

Noting that President Bush and the nation's governors agreed at their recent summit to push for better monitoring of school-reform efforts, Mr. Cross said "we've got to have a state-of-the-art research-and-development system for mea4suring and analyzing and reporting our progress. As soon as possible."

He said he would initiate a comprehensive study to help ensure that the components of the department's research arm, many of which were established during the 1960's, are working together.

Another emphasis of his tenure, he said, will be to expand cooperative efforts with other federal agencies, such as the National Science Foundation, and outside groups, such as the National Governors' Association.

A third priority, Mr. Cross said, will be to ensure that "both the substance and form of our work reflect[s] the needs of practitioners."

In a letter last week to President Bush and two governors who helped plan September's 8education summit, the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee chastised them for advocating relaxation of federal education regulations.

"Everybody wants their lives to be less complicated, including educators," wrote Representative Augustus F. Hawkins, Democrat of California. "We must sympathize with that, but we must remember that the end result of education is to produce better-educated people. That ought to be the criterion we use for judging whether certain rules and regulations were needed."

Mr. Hawkins also disputed the accuracy of some examples of federal rules cited in the joint statement issued at the summit.

Contrary to the statement, he said, federal law does not require that chilel10ldren benefiting from compensatory-education or special-education programs be taught in separate classes. And it is not fair to use set-asides for special populations under the vocational-education law as an example, he argued, because the Congress is working on legislation that would eliminate most of them.

In a statement responding to the chairman, Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos acknowledged the error about compensatory and special education, but said Mr. Hawkins's concern about reducing regulation was "not appropriate at a time when we must develop aggressive strategies to erase the education deficit."

Defaults on federal Supplementary Loans for Students have skyrocketed from $14 million in fiscal 1987 to $247 million in fiscal 1989, according to a report by the General Accounting Office.

The sls program provides market-rate loans in lieu of or in addition to other forms of federal aid, such as Pell Grants and Stafford Loans.

Freshman borrowers were responsible for 85 percent of all defaults in 1989, compared with 12 percent of the total two years earlier. Loans to students in trade schools represented 86 percent of the defaults in 1989, up from 12 percent in 1987.

The report may lend ammunition to backers of a bill to bar first-year students from the sls program.

The House included such a provision in its version of the deficit-reduction bill. The Senate did not pass the provision, so the issue will be decided in conference.

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