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E.D. Set To Unveil List of 18 Centers To Compete for Federal Research Funds

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By Julie A. Miller

Washington--The Education Department this week is set to unveil a list of 18 research centers it plans to fund later this year in a massive competition that will earmark a substantial proportion of the agency's research budget.

The list includes all 12 centers included in the proposal the department published in September, as well as 6 additional ones, according to sources in the department's office of educational research and improvement.

Christopher T. Cross, assistant secretary for educational research and improvement, said last week that the amount of funding proposed for the centers would vary greatly, and is indicative of their "relative importance" in the agency's view.

Jerry Sroufe, director of governmental and professional liaison for the American Educational Research Association, said researchers could ''have a problem with that."

"If they [the funding awards] are not big enough, they're not going to succeed," he said, noting that startup costs would eat up much of a small award.

Mr. Cross, who joined the research office in October, said one of the proposed new centers would focus on the dissemination of research--a mission that he said reflects his agenda for the agency.

Sources said the list also includes two centers--on teacher performance, and cultural diversity and second-language learning--avidly sought by lawmakers and researchers.

One o.e.r.i. source said lower-level agency officials argued against funding the two centers, but were overruled by Mr. Cross and other top Education Department appointees, who may have been motivated by Congressional pressure.

Representative Major R. Owens, the New York Democrat who is chairman of the select education subcommittee, has pushed for a new center on language-minority issues since the department terminated a grant for the center for language education and research in 1988. His panel will be key in next year's reauthorization of the o.e.r.i.

Mr. Sroufe speculated that the decision to fund a teacher-performance center may have been motivated by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

He noted that Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos insisted at a recent hearing on federal funding for the board that the Education Department was already conducting research on the topic of teacher training and performance.

The list also includes a center on literature education similar to one that was to be eliminated in the original plan, though an o.e.r.i. source said its mission would be different than that of the existing center.

Conspicuously absent are proposals to continue funding two centers on secondary schools and on elementary and middle schools. A campaign by the "grade level" centers and their supporters generated about 70 percent of the hundreds of letters the department received about its plan. (See Education Week, Nov. 1, 1989.)

Another of the new centers, on school organization and restructuring, may focus on some of the issues covered by those centers, but details were not available last week.

The final new proposal is for a center on education finance and productivity.

Other Agency Support

An o.e.r.i. source said that the agency was set to include a 19th center on arts education--a topic covered by an existing center not included in the original plan--but that the National Endowment for the Arts backed out of a tentative agreement to underwrite a substantial portion of the cost.

The Education Department was, however, able to make such arrangements with two other agencies, according to o.e.r.i. sources.

The center on adult literacy, included in the original plan, is to receive $500,000 each from the Education Department and the Labor Department, and $100,000 from the Department of Health and Human Services.

In addition, h.h.s. is to kick in $100,000 apiece for the centers on school organization and restructuring; education in the inner city; science teaching and learning; and families, communities, and young children's learning.

One source said that other federal agencies had expressed interest in cooperative ventures, but that the tight deadline for completing the centers plan, and the fact that the revisions were being made as agencies finished up their budget planning for 1991, proved difficult obstacles to overcome.

However, the source said, these agencies may contribute in later years.

The department has requested as part of its fiscal 1991 budget a 10 percent increase for the office of research, which oversees the centers.

"Our question is what they'll do if they don't get it, which they haven't in the past," Mr. Sroufe said.

Of the 12 centers whose missions were outlined in a Sept. 12 Federal Register notice, nine are similar or identical to those covered by existing centers.

The three that cover new ground are those on adult literacy; inner cities; and families, communities, and young children's learning. Five extant centers were to be eliminated. (See Education Week, Sept. 20, 1989.)

A notice announcing the revised plan is set to be published in the Register this week, Mr. Cross said.

No information was available last week on whether the notice would include revised mission statements for any of the centers proposed in September.

Grants for 14 of the 19 centers currently funded expire this year. This competition is the o.e.r.i.'s largest since 1985, when all nine of the then-extant centers were reconsidered.

The $17.8 million spent on all of the centers in fiscal 1989 accounted for more than half of the o.e.r.i.'s nonstatistical research budget.

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