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Give O.E.R.I. Flexibility, Alexander Tells Senators

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Washington--Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander told a Senate subcommittee last week that the Education Department's office of educational research and improvement needs more flexibility in awarding research grants.

The office, which works with research centers at universities and nonprofit laboratories in collecting and disseminating education research, could benefit from contracting with the private sector, the Secretary said.

"The more flexibility you can afford the department in making those decisions, the better we'll be able to use the taxpayers' dollars," he told the Senate Education, Arts, and Humanities Subcommittee at its first hearing on the reauthorization of the oeri.

He added that the office should have access to the same "breadth of expertise" that will assist the New American Schools Development Corporation, an organization of business leaders that is to help design innovative schools that are a part of President Bush's America 2000 strategy.

Although members of the subcommittee did not question Mr. Alexander on the issue of flexibility, other members of the Congress in recent weeks have suggested that the discretionary authority of the department's research arm be curtailed. These members complain that the department is using research funds to implement elements of the Administration's agenda for which Congressional approval should be sought.

Congressional sources said a 1992 spending bill approved recently by the House Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee would increase the oeri budget by only $400,000, and that the research office has been given specific directions on how to use its money. (See related story, page 1.)

In addition to asking for more flexibility, Mr. Alexander said the Administration's reauthorization bill for the oeri, which he said would be sent to Capitol Hill in a matter of weeks, would contain the following provisions:

Authority to establish, by 1994, a national report card based on 4th, 8th, and 12th graders' test results in mathematics, English, science, history, and geography. The Administration is proposing a $100,000 grant to each state to support the supervision of state assessments.

Mr. Alexander said that the release this month of National Assessment of Educational Progress data on mathematics had already spurred some state and local educators to call for changes in instruction.

Focusing the oeri's energies and resources on a specific set of priorities, an idea that has also been raised by lawmakers.

The Secretary, however, would like to concentrate on the America 2000 agenda of improving schools, inventing new schools, encouraging lifelong learning by all Americans, and making communities places where students can thrive.

Putting more resources into "applying the knowledge gained from research and statistical findings."

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