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Senate Panel Clears Bill To Revamp and Expand O.E.R.I.

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WASHINGTON--A Senate subcommittee last week unanimously approved legislation to reorganize and expand the Education Department's office of educational research and improvement, although less dramatically than would a comparable House measure.

The Senate bill, S 1275, which the full Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee is expected to consider this week, would divide the research functions of the agency into five "directorates,'' which would support basic and applied research on key topics and serve as data bases of model programs.

The measure would also create a "board of governors'' to advise the head of the O.E.R.I., and would create new programs to support dissemination of research, to promote education technology, and to provide educational assistance to the former Soviet bloc nations.

In addition, the bill would continue the state-level National Assessment of Educational Progress, but on a trial basis only, in 1994 and 1996. It would also implement, in a modified way, the recommendations of the National Council on Educational Standards and Testing.

Senator Claiborne Pell, Democrat of Rhode Island and chairman of the subcommittee on education, the arts, and humanities, said the bill would give agency officials "the tools they need to make sure that the O.E.R.I. becomes the engine that pulls the train of educational excellence and innovation.''

Research Reorganization

A House bill to reauthorize the O.E.R.I., which is expected to be considered this month, would greatly expand and overhaul the agency by creating a powerful oversight board and new research institutes.

The Senate bill, by contrast, calls for more modest changes.

To reorganize the agency's research activities, the bill would create five directorates and authorize a total of $70 million for them. These directorates, according to Senator Pell, would "advance new, innovative, and even controversial ideas, concepts, and programs.''

Reflecting the salience of standards and assessments, the bill would set aside 50 percent of the directorates' appropriations for one on curriculum, instruction, and assessment. The others--on early-childhood learning, families, and communities; the educational achievement of historically underserved populations; school organization, structure, and finance; and postsecondary and adult education--would each receive 10 percent of the appropriations.

The remaining 10 percent would be used by the assistant secretary for research and improvement for research synthesis and coordination.

All of the directorates, moreover, would set aside one-third of their funding for university-based research centers, a slight decrease from this year's appropriation of $25.3 million, and 15 percent for field-initiated research, a major increase over the $1 million provided this year.

To help ensure that the research spreads throughout schools, the bill would also create a dissemination office and a $10-million network to train teachers on the latest findings.

National Testing

At the urging of Senator Pell, who has advocated some form of national testing since the 1960's, the bill also contains several provisions to develop a system of assessments.

Although the Senate has already approved legislation to implement the standards council's report, S 1275 also contains similar language.

Both measures would codify and reconstitute the National Education Goals Panel and create a National Education Standards and Assessment Council to oversee the development of national standards and a system of assessments and to certify them as "world class.''

The new bill, however, would reduce the membership of the new council from 21 members to 15, and would require them to be experts in curriculum design or testing. The measure would also require substantial public input into the council's deliberations.

The bill also calls for $2.5 million for the identification or development of tests to compare student achievement among nations.

Addressing îáåð, the bill authorizes the project to develop a trial state-level assessment in reading, mathematics, and science in grades 4, 8, and 12 in 1994, and three trial assessments in 1996.

In a move to foster improvements in education in the emerging democracies of the former Soviet bloc, the bill would also create a $30-million international education-exchange program, which would authorize the Education Department to provide technical experts to help such nations develop programs in civics and economic education.

The program would help the new nations "as they struggle to establish and sustain a democratic form of government and build and sustain a capitalist economy,'' Senator Pell said.

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