Washington--The Education Department last week awarded $162 million to 10 institutions to operate federal regional education laboratories for the next five years.
Completing what department officials called the largest federal education research-and-development competition ever undertaken, the department also announced $37.2 million in five-year grants to six universities to run research centers.
The new announcements bring to 17 the number of center awards, totaling $118.5 million, made by the department this year. Competition for an 18th center, on the dissemination of research, is expected to reopen next year.
Christopher T. Cross, assistant secretary for educational research and improvement, said the awards represent a “significant investment” in the expansion and application of knowledge about education. The result, he said, is likely to be improved practice.
“The thrust I have tried to bring to all institutions,” he continued, “is to place much greater emphasis on targeting parents and teachers as the population to be served. They are our audience.”
“It’s wonderful if we can help researchers, great if we can help policymakers,” Mr. Cross said. “Things are going to change if we help parents and teachers.”
Created in 1965, the labs and centers were aimed at focusing federal education research-and-development activities by generating research-based knowledge on specific topics and applying such knowledge in schools and school districts.
This year, in response to criticism, the department sharpened the mission statements for the laboratories, according to Nelson Smith, director of the department’s office of programs for the improvement of practice.
Each of the institutions is expected to concentrate on schooling for children at risk of failure, he said, and all are to pay particular attention to the needs of rural schools.
In addition, Mr. Smith noted, the Department of Health and Human Services has provided $2.5 million to support the labs’ efforts to improve early-childhood education. Under the project, the labs will participate in conferences and advise districts on children’s transition from Head Start, which is operated by hhs, to elementary schools.
Competition for this year’s lab awards was not particularly intense, according to Mr. Smith. Only one of the 10 contracts was contested, he said, and 8 of the 10 represent continuations of past awards.
One new award went to the Pacific Regional Educational Laboratory in Honolulu, which will operate the newly created Pacific Basin Regional Laboratory. The Congress in 1988 established the laboratory to serve Hawaii and Pacific islands, which had previously been under the purview of the Northwestern Regional Laboratory.
In the only contested competition, SouthEastern Regional Vision for Education at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro won the contract to operate the Southeastern regional lab. For the past five years, that lab had been operated by the Southeastern Educational Improvement Laboratory at Research Triangle Park in North Carolina.
In contrast to the lab competition, the bidding for the centers was hotly contested, according to Milton Goldberg, director of the department’s office of research. Some 94 institutions bid for the 18 proposed centers, he said, and as many as 13 bid for a single center.
Grants awarded last week were $7.1 million to Rutgers University to operate the center on education policy and student learning; $6.8 million to Michigan State University for the center on learning to teach; $4.3 million to the State University of New York at Albany for the center on literature teaching and learning; $5.9 million to the University of Wisconsin at Madison for the center on mathematics teaching and learning; $5.9 million to Pennsylvania State University for the center on postsecondary learning, teaching, and assessment; and $7.2 million to the University of Pittsburgh for the center on student learning.
With the exception of the Penn State grant, all the awards represent continuations of prior grants.
Mr. Cross said, however, that the new centers must place a greater emphasis than previous research centers did on providing knowledge of use to practitioners.
“We require that they include teachers in the planning process, and place a major emphasis on dissemination,” he said.
In addition, the assistant secretary said, the centers must also collaborate to solve common problems. For example, the centers on science, mathematics, and literature teaching can work with the center on assessment to develop new forms of testing.
“They understand that this is a new age,” Mr. Cross said. “They understand they have to work together to contribute to the expansion and application of knowledge.”
A version of this article appeared in the December 12, 1990 edition of Education Week as E.D. Awards $162 Million To 10 Groups To Run Federal Education Laboratories