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Research-Center List Apparently Quiets Many Critics

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Washington--An expanded list of 18 research centers to be established in a massive competition this year, released by the Education Department March 8, appears to have placated many critics of its original proposal.

The strongest criticism of the September plan, which called for only 12 centers, was that it did not include "missions" similar to those of two popular current centers--one that studies issues related to the organization of elementary and middle schools and one dealing with secondary schools. (See Education Week, Nov. 1, 1989.)

One of the six centers that were added to the expanded list is a center on the organization and restructuring of schools, which is to focus on some of the same issues as the two existing centers.

Milton Goldberg, director of the Education Department's office of research, which oversees the centers, said the new proposal was indeed added partly in response to the outpouring of protest.

He said the new center will build on the work that has been done by the "grade level" centers while tying their focus on organization to restructuring issues.

Many researchers have told the o.e.r.i. that its centers have done too much "tinkering at the edges" of school issues and need to start addressing larger trends, he added.

The center is to document and classify the many forms of restructuring; to monitor their effects on students, staff, and schools; and to determine what makes restructuring successful, according to an application package released last week.

James M. McPartland, co-director of the current elementary- and middle-school center at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and Fred M. Newmann, director of the center on secondary schools at the University of Wisconsin, each said the new center has the potential to continue their work, and each said they would be apply for the grant to operate it.

Mr. Newmann added, however, that the new center may have diffi8culty assessing the long-term effects of restructuring efforts, many of which are still in their infancy.

Spokesmen for both the National Association of Secondary School Principals and the National Association of Elementary School Principals said last week that they were not pleased that the two grade-level centers are being phased out. They acknowledged, however, that they see the potential of the new center to address many of their needs.

Researchers and lawmakers had also criticized the omission of a center on minority-language issues. A center on cultural diversity and second-language learning was added to the list.

The department also apparently responded to lawmakers' concerns by dropping some references to parental choice that had been included in the missions of three of the original 12 proposed centers.

An aide to Representative Major R. Owens, the New York Democrat who is chairman of the House Select Education Subcommittee and the leading Capitol Hill critic of the original plan, said Mr. Owens had not had time to review the expanded proposal and declined to comment.

The expanded plan published in the Federal Register provided only the names of the centers and estimat4ed funding amounts. The department hopes to provide the centers with $125.3 million over five years. (See Education Week, March 14, 1990.)

Details on Center Missions

But a guide for researchers who wish to apply for grants to operate the centers, released last week, contains more details on the six new proposals.

In addition to school restructuring and second-language learning, new centers are to focus on literature, dissemination of research, teacher performance evaluation and educational accountability, and education finance and productivity.

The finance center is to study, among other issues, the relationship between financial resources and educational outcomes, the financial implications of school reforms, and educational equity.

Bush Administration officials have consistently maintained that more money is not the solution to educational problems.

And Mr. Goldberg acknowledged that the center's findings may have adverse political repercussions, but said "the fact that a political burden is carried does not minimize the importance of these issues, and we dare not shy away from them."

Focus on Dissemination

The original September announcement called on all centers to address four "pervasive themes:" cultural diversity, "student and teacher engagement" in the education process, the impact of "student transitions" between home and school and levels of schooling, and the "mismatch" between the organization of middle and high schools and the needs of young adolescents.

The new application package calls for an emphasis on cultural diversity, "student and teacher motivation," and dissemination.

Dissemination is emphasized strongly throughout the document, which calls on the centers to aim for wide distribution of their findings--a goal that Christopher T. Cross, assistant secretary for research and improvement, has said is at the top of his agenda for the oeri

As part of the emphasis on dissemination, the department included in the application package plans to establish an annual research forum and a telecommunications network linking the Office of Educational Research and Improvement with research centers, educational laboratories, and other interested institutions and individuals.

"I think the research community will respond positively to these center missions, and there will be intense competition," said Gerald E. Sroufe, director of governmental and professional liaison for the American Educational Research Association.

But Mr. Sroufe said the o.e.r.i.'s dissemination efforts may be wasted unless they are carefully timed and targeted.

"There is no question that this Administration seem to be more responsive to the general educational needs," said Dena G. Stoner, executive director of the Council for Educational Research and Development, which represents research centers and laboratories. "I don't see in the applications a real ideological agenda."

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