Consensus Elusive on Plan To Reorganize E.D.'s Research Arms
Washington--A rift in the education community over the future of the Education Department's research arms has become evident in recent weeks, as two factions circulate competing blueprints for the upcoming reauthorization of the National Institute of Education.
Meanwhile, Secretary of Education William J. Bennett is expected to complete his reorganization plan for the nie soon, perhaps as early as this week, and then to begin discussions with key Congressmen on the issue.
His recommendations are expected to resemble those circulated here recently by Denis P. Doyle and Terry W. Hartle, education-policy analysts at the American Enterprise Institute. Mr. Doyle, a frequent collaborator on education articles with Chester E. Finn Jr., President Reagan's nominee for the department's top research post, is said to reflect Mr. Finn's posture on the reorganization issue.
Mr. Finn last week declined comment on the issue.
Mr. Doyle and Mr. Hartle would streamline the nie and elevate its status in the department, renaming as assistant secretary for nie the post of assistant secretary for educational research and improvement, to be assumed by Mr. Finn upon Senate confirmation.
The assistant secretary for nie would have direct control over five units--research, statistics, dissemination and improvement, libraries and learning technology, and the national center for vocational-education research.
Until recently, this approach has been the only significant one circulating in the education community.
But at least five major education groups, concerned that the Doyle-Hartle approach could create an "elite" unit of researchers producing work irrelevant to the business of schools, have developed their own plan, which would eliminate the nie altogether and integrate research functions into the department's program offices.
This group includes the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, the American Association of School Administrators, the Center for Educational Development and Research, the National Education Association, and the National School Boards Association.
The nie's laboratories and centers "are so closely tied to the school community ... that the elite little establishment [proposed by Mr. Doyle and Mr. Hartle] wouldn't serve our interests," said E. Joseph Schneider, executive director of cedar, an umbrella group for the labs and centers that participated in drafting the education groups' alternative plan.
According to Mr. Schneider, the five organizations began working because "we felt there had to be an alternative to the Doyle paper" and "knew that the existing structure will change" in the reauthorization process.
David G. Imig, executive director of aacte, said that the alternative plan is intended to "build support on Capitol Hill" for education research by involving educators "in the field" to a greater extent than is now the case.
The attitude in the Congress towards education research has "moved from disinterest to apathy to downright antagonism," argued Mr. Imig. Another objective of this plan would be to spread the research dollars to more Congressional districts than now, thus encouraging broader Congressional support.
He said that the aei plan, by concentrating on the organizationalel15lstructure, would not help to build a broader constituency nor solve the problem of a shrinking federal outlay for education research.
Secretary's Authority Unclear
The research institute's life technically expires on Sept. 30, but another education law provides a one-year extension. The Congress thus must act to renew its authorization before Sept. 30, 1986.
Under the 1979 law that created the Education Department, Mr. Bennett has the authority to "alter, consolidate, or discontinue" the nie and the National Center for Education Statistics, provided that he gives the Congress 90 days' notice.
But education lobbyists, the department, and Congressional aides and their bosses are unsure how the Secretary can exercise his authority at the same time that the Congress must write new legislation for the institute, interviews indicate. The Congress last fall approved a new authorization for the National Cen-ter for Education Statistics, which would be folded into the reorganized nie under the Doyle-Hartle plan.
The schism between the two plans' proponents is likely to be a main focus of debate when the House Select Education Subcommittee holds hearings in the coming weeks on the nie reauthorization, Congressional sources say.
A Competing Plan
The education groups would eliminate the nie and assign its "contractual commitments" to four program offices: elementary and secondary education; postsecondary education; vocational and adult education; and special education and rehabilitative services. Each office would have a deputy assistant secretary for research, a career bureaucrat, to oversee these operations.
The vocational- and special-education offices already have research functions. Because the research has been linked closely with programs, the offices' research efforts have been considered successful, accord-ing to Mr. Schneider of cedar
But a panel of prominent educators convened by Secretary Bennett recently questioned whether program offices should maintain research capabilities.
"There is a tendency within programs to authorize research that is self-promoting," commented Diane Ravitch, professor of education and history at Columbia University's Teachers College, during a meeting of the group this month.
Moreover, the American Federation of Teachers has drafted recommendations similar to aei's, according to David H. Florio, an education-policy analyst with the aft "We generally support a research function that has its own intergrity," he said.
Also, according to the five groups' background paper, dated May 31, a politically appointed assistant secretary for research and development support would oversee an intra-agency coordinating council to manage the research efforts.
None of the groups that participated in developing the blueprint has yet endorsed it as official policy.