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E.D. Lets $27.8 Million Contract for New Center

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Washington

The Education Department last week awarded a $27.8 million five-year contract to Johns Hopkins and Howard universities to jointly operate a research center focused on improving education for disadvantaged students.

The contract is among the largest ever given for a federal education research center. And it marks the department's first tangible step toward revamping its office of educational research and improvement with an eye toward generating more credible, "consumer driven" research.

As part of that effort, which Congress called for in reauthorizing the research office earlier this year, the agency is being reshaped into five institutes, much like those that make up the National Institutes of Health.

The new Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed at Risk will be what Sharon P. Robinson, the assistant secretary in charge of the research office, has called the "intellectual dynamo" of one of the largest of those new institutes, the Institute on the At-Risk.

The hefty award--$4.7 million in the first year--is intended to enable the institute to produce more "definitive" studies than federal education research centers have to date.

Up until its contract expired last week, Johns Hopkins received between $1.4 million and $1.7 million a year to operate a smaller federal research center with a similar mission.

The new contract will allow those studies to continue and enable the center's researchers to work with other universities in new areas, such as bilingual education, issues surrounding the federal Chapter 1 program for disadvantaged schools, and on strategies for "scaling up" successful school-reform programs.

'Critical Junctures'

Howard, a historically black university, has not had a federal education research center. But Wade Boikin, the Howard professor who will serve as co-director of the new center, has earned a reputation for studies of why some underprivileged children succeed despite overwhelming odds.

The other universities and research centers the new center will collaborate with are: the University of California at Santa Barbara, the University of California at Los Angeles, Arizona State University, the University of Chicago, the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, the Southwest Regional Laboratory, Memphis State University, and the University of Houston at Clear Lakes.

"Our overall conception is that, if a child is born healthy--wherever they're born--you can assume that, with proper upbringing and schooling, that child can succeed," said Robert Slavin, the Johns Hopkins researcher who will direct the center with Mr. Boikin.

"But there are many things that go wrong with that positive scenario over the years," he added.

Some children, for example, do not start school ready to learn, and others fall by the wayside in kindergarten and 1st grade because they cannot read.

Upper elementary school and transitions from elementary to middle school and from middle school to high school are also critical points, Mr. Slavin said.

"The whole idea of the center is trying to identify points at which things go wrong and find solutions at each of those junctures," he said.

The center will also study ways educators can capitalize on the strengths that children bring to school with them.

An independent review panel chose the Hopkins-Howard team over 10 other competitors, said Joseph Conaty, the acting director of the O.E.R.I.'s office of research.

The announcement comes before the Education Department has drafted a long-term strategy for its research efforts. Ms. Robinson is expected next month to announce appointments to a panel Congress mandated to help set that agenda.

Most of the other new research centers are not expected to be announced until next year, after contracts for existing centers expire.

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