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E.D. Rejects Bids for Research-Dissemination Center

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Washington--The Education Department has rejected all of the proposals submitted to operate a new research center on the dissemination of research, and will reopen the competition, department officials announced last week.

The decision was announced along with the awards for the first seven of the research centers, which conduct much of the educational research funded by the department. Grants for the other 10 centers are expected to be awarded within the next six weeks.

The seven grants, which range from $5.2 million to $10.2 million over five years, went to six universities and affiliated institutions, many of which had not operated centers during the past five years.

The proposed "center on research on dissemination and knowledge utilization" was expected to fulfill a high priority of Christopher T. Cross, the department's assistant secretary for educational research and improvement.

But Mr. Cross said last week that none of the proposals for the center came close to matching the department's stated requirements.

"The approach the offers that came in with were much like the past,'' he said. "They did not recognize that we were talking about dissemination in an active way, not a theoretical program."

"There's a lot of knowledge [of dissemination of research] out there," Mr. Cross said. "What we have to do is make it work."

The assistant secretary added that the department would soon send out a new request for proposals, and is expected to make an award by next spring.

Gerald E. Sroufe, director of government and professional liaison for the American Educational Research Association, said his organization agreed with Mr. Cross that dissemination of research should be a high priority. But he questioned whether a research center is the appropriate vehicle for such an endeavor.

"It's not something we have university departments studying," Mr. Sroufe said. "It may be we have to go outside of education to do that."

'Spreading the Word'

The new center awards are part of the largest competition the office of educational research and improvement has undertaken since 1985.The centers are expected to determine a significant share of the federal education-research agenda for the next five years. (See Education Week, Sept. 20, 1989.)

Over all, the department has proposed designating $125.3 million over the next five years for the 18 university-based centers. That total includes funds from other agencies, including the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services, Mr. Cross noted.

The seven new awards include:

The Center on Education in the Inner Cities, Temple University, $7.4 million.

The Center on Families, Communities, and Children's Learning, Boston University, $6.3 million.

The Center on Adult Literacy, University of Pennsylvania, $10.2 million.

The Center on Organization and Restructuring of Schools, University of Wisconsin at Madison, $7.2 million.

The Center on Teacher Performance Evaluation and Educational Accountability, Western Michigan University, $5.2 million.

The Center on the Educational Quality of the Workforce, University of Pennsylvania, $6.5 million.

The Center on Science Teaching and Learning, Ohio State University, $6.9 million.

The awardees are expected to play a greater role than past research centers did in sharing information with practitioners, according to Mr. Cross.

"We will not just advance the state of knowledge, although clearly we will do that," he said. "There will be much more active participation by us in knowing what is going on and spreading the word."

For example, he said, the oeri will bring together center directors to discuss issues that cut across centers, and will connect them with the regional laboratories and the Educational Resources Information Center system.

'Truly on the Merits'

Mr. Cross noted that the competition for the seven centers was intense, and that the agency received as many as 14 proposals for a single center.

Researchers--including some who lost the competition--said last week that the process of reviewing proposals was fair.

James McPartland, co-director of the expiring Center for Research on Elementary and Middle Schools at Johns Hopkins University, who bid on the center on organization and restructuring, said the department's review panel based its decision "truly on the merits of the proposals, not on politics."

Mr. McPartland added that he believed the Johns Hopkins team lost its bid when the department announced the centers' missions. At that time, the oeri decided to eliminate the elementary and middle-school center, as well as a center on effective secondary schools, and instead include some topics they covered in the proposed restructuring center.

"There is a tendency to go with a new term, rather than continue ongoing missions," Mr. McPartland said. As a result, "a lot of things we were doing won't be continued."

For example, he suggested, the new center is likely to focus on issues surrounding the process of school restructuring, such as school-based management, rather than issues like tracking and grading, that are unique to particular grade levels.

'The Important Questions'

Mr. McPartland also noted that most of the awards went to consortia of institutions, rather than "unified centers."

"For some topics, having a collection of commissioned papers is important," he said. "But I do think a unified center that tries to amass talent to do work is one model that ought to be preserved."

Milton Goldberg, director of the department's office of research, responded that modern telecommunications technology makes it possible for scholars in disparate locations to work closely together.

He added that the department was confident that all of the key areas of education research would be addressed by the new centers.

"The process of identifying topics has been intensive and wide-ranging, and has involved thousands of people," Mr. Goldberg said. "We believe we got the important questions to be addressed in the next five years. And we've got outstanding proposals to do the work."

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