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Educators Move To Expand Diffusion-Network Scope

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WASHINGTON--Educators involved with the National Diffusion Network have taken steps toward creating a professional group that would promote more exemplary education programs than those recognized by the federal curriculum clearinghouse.

However, they remain undecided about what type of legislative proposal would best move the N.D.N. itself toward a parallel expansion of scope.

And if they sit idle while the Congress addresses dissemination in this year's reauthorization of the Education Department's research branch, the network's partisans could miss their chance to overhaul it-or even see it supplanted by a new system.

The network consists of "developer demonstrators" who have created programs accepted for dissemination, and state facilitators, who help link schools with programs. They formed the National Dissemination Study Group in 1981 to lobby for the N.D.N.

Last year, the group held a three day brainstorming session on the future of the association and the network. Diverse visions of the future were proposed, but an informal consensus was reached on the need for broader focus and more aggressive marketing. ('See Education Week, Sept. 25, 1991 .)

The National Dissemination Study Group's board drafted recommendations on how to proceed, and last week presented an outline to members attending a federal conference here, tea positive response.

They propose to open membership to educators who are not involved in dissemination and to curriculum developers who either have programs that do not fit the N.D.N. criteria, or who do not think it would be worth their while to seek acceptance into the network.

They are particularly interested in seeking out developers of programs that have been "validated" in other ways, and invited representatives of the National Science Foundation to their meeting to discuss programs that agency has recognized.

'Enlarging the Tent'

Max McConkey, the executive director of the group, said his dream is to turn a volunteer-run network with a $30,000 budget into a $300,000 organization that serves as the contact point for educators interested in dissemination. And he hopes such a group can successfully move the N.D.N. itself toward a broader purpose.

"if we don't enlarge the tent, we're going to have a hard time convincing people on Capitol Hill that we're serious about change," he said. "I would like to go up there representing more than the interests of a bunch Of N.D.N. grantees who would like another $50,000 in their grants."

However, Mr. McConkey said, the group is undecided on what to propose.

Diane S. Ravitch, assistant secretary for educational research and improvement, warned the group against indecision last week.

Both the pending House reauthorization bill and its Senate counter

  • part include dissemination strategies and "neither one uses the N.D.N. as a major part of the system," she said in an interview.

"They would make a mistake by staying out of our reauthorization," Ms. Ravitch said. "It could go through with a whole dissemination system and they wouldn't be included."

Senators have not yet unveiled their bill, but may do so this week. The House bill, whose chief sponsor is Representative Major R. Owens, Democrat of New York, includes plans for a dissemination system featuring school-district-level coordinators, and does not mention the N.D.N.

The situation is complicated by a jurisdictional tangle. While Mr. Owens' subcommittee oversees most research issues, the N.D.N. previously has been included in omnibus legislation covering many of the federal programs in precollegiate education, which is handled by another panel.

House aides said lawnrakers are still debating whether to mention the N.D.N. in the research bill, but that they will probably wait to reauthorize it next year, when such an omnibus bill is due.

That is what Mr. McConkey favors. He said he has discussed the possibility of including "placeholder" language in the research bill to indicate the N.D.N.'S place in any dissemination system. But Ms. Ravitch said she is pushing to have the N.D.N. "integrated" into the dissemination plan she thinks will be part of the research bill.

She would like the N.D.N. to expand the types of programs it disseminates, to tie into an ambitious computer data base her agency is developing, and to coordinate its work with the rest of the research branch.

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