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Research Center To Focus on Education of Blacks

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Washington

The United Negro College Fund announced last week the creation of a research institute to focus on issues surrounding the education of African-Americans.

Started with a $5 million endowment mostly from private philanthropists, the Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute will collect, analyze, and disseminate information on the education of African-Americans from preschool through postgraduate programs.

"This provides an institute that will say: 'You know those trillions of dollars you're spending on education? If you really want to improve achievement, here's how to do it,"' said William H. Gray, the president and chief executive officer of the UNCF.

The fund named Michael T. Nettles, a professor of education and public policy at the University of Michigan, to head the institute, which will be based at the group's headquarters in Fairfax, Va. A former research scientist with the educational-policy division of the Educational Testing Service, Mr. Nettles' research has focused on such areas as campus diversity programs and on issues of equity in testing and assessment.

The institute, named after the founder of the UNCF, plans to prepare a list of priority research projects in about four months, after it has a chance to build its staff and select a 12- to 15-member board of scholars, educators, and community leaders, Mr. Nettles said.

Finding What Works

The institute will pay significant attention to the progress made by students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, Mr. Gray said. But, he noted, its formation does not signal a shift by the UNCF from its primary mission of helping blacks gain greater access to college.

Nonetheless, the institute's research in such areas as dropout prevention and student achievement should be of great interest to policymakers and educators working in K-12 education, Mr. Nettles said.

"Every year we see some African-American students achieving very well coming from urban areas that we think of as having impossible conditions," he said. "So we want to see what it is about those students that allows them to make it."

Other research may delve into how black students in particular fare under different types of institutions, such as charter, private, and parochial schools, Mr. Nettles said. "We will be raising questions about many conventional beliefs about education."

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