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Competition Opened for Reading Research Center

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Washington--Opening what is likely to be the only federal education-research competition this year, the Education Department has solicited bids to operate a research center on reading.

The proposed $7.8-million, five-year cooperative agreement, outlined in an application released this month, is expected to continue what has been one of the most highly regarded of the federal centers.

"The research that has come out of the center has made a significant impact on how reading instruction is conducted in the United States,'' said Richard Long, Washington representative for the International Reading Association.

Mr. Long noted that the center, which has been operated by the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, has focused on the cognitive processes in reading, as well as on reading comprehension. But he said that other areas of reading instruction also de4serve attention, and he predicted that other universities with different approaches would bid to run the center.

"I'm expecting a good competition," he said. "Illinois has had it for a long time. Others are anxious to show what they can do."

New Priorities

The proposed center is one of 25 funded by the department's office of educational research and improvement. Grants for most of the other centers were awarded last year. (See Education Week, Dec. 12, 1990.)

Two other centers--one on the learning and teaching of elementary subjects and another on the context of secondary-school teaching--expire this year. But the Bush Administration has not requested funding for them, and they are expected to die.

In its announcement for the reading center, the department states that it should "engage in long-term, systematic research" on understanding reading and expanding theories of reading, as well as short-term studies to improve the teaching and learning of the subject.

In particular, it states, the center should focus on instructional strategies for at-risk students, alternative assessments of student learning, the education of reading teachers, and the ways in which students learn to read from textbooks.

Gerald E. Sroufe, director of government and professional liaison for the American Educational Research Association, pointed out that the center, like the majority of those awarded in the current round, will be awarded as a cooperative agreement, meaning that the oeri will have more say over the center's operation than it would if it were awarded as a grant.

As a result, he said, the center may have to shift gears if the department's priorities change.

Education Department officials "think it gives them more flexibility to do that," Mr. Sroufe said. "It does, but at the cost of having a sustained research program."

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