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O.E.R.I. Meetings Seek To Gauge Demand for R&D

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Washington

Looking to create a "customer driven'' research agenda, the Education Department's research branch has launched a series of public meetings with educators, parents, and policymakers around the country.

"We have to understand the demand for research and development, and in order to do that, we have to talk with our stakeholders,'' said Sharon P. Robinson, the assistant secretary for the office of educational research and improvement.

The first meeting was scheduled for last Friday in Pinellas County, Fla. Other meetings are set for May 5 in Austin, Tex.; May 18 in Seattle; May 20 in Chicago; and May 24 in Portland, Me.

The question of who controls the federal education-research agenda has been a perennial subject of debate. Some researchers and members of Congress have complained that the O.E.R.I.'s work in the past has been overly influenced by the political agenda of whatever administration was in power.

Many educators and other practitioners in the field, moreover, have frequently contended that the research was irrelevant to their needs.

In response to those concerns, the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, which President Clinton signed into law last month, requires the Education Department to share some of its authority in setting research priorities with a new, independent, broadly representative board.

Comprising five researchers, five educators, and five individuals with "general knowledge of educational needs,'' the 15-member board must give final approval to a long-term research agenda that the assistant secretary has developed in concert with the agency.

The Goals 2000 law also reorganizes federal education-research centers under five thematic institutes, an arrangement patterned after the National Institutes of Health.

'Hit the Ground Running'

The institutes will focus on: student achievement; curriculum and assessment; education for at-risk students; educational governance, finance, policymaking, and management; early-childhood development and education; and postsecondary education, libraries, and education.

And the law calls for creation of an office of reform assistance and dissemination to get research into the hands of practitioners.

The board and the institutes are not required to be in place until next year. But Ms. Robinson said the five public meetings scheduled through next month are part of an effort to "hit the ground running'' in complying with the new statute and developing a research agenda for both the O.E.R.I. and the new institutes.

"We tried to pick places where we knew there were broad coalitions of stakeholders who were making use of education research in their reform efforts,'' Ms. Robinson said.

She said the research agency also hopes to establish closer ties in the future with those and other school districts.

"These won't be one-shot events,'' Ms. Robinson predicted.

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