E.D. Sets New Research Awards

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Washington--The Education Department's research branch, calling for ''promising and fresh ideas" for improving American education, announced last week its first unsolicited-grants competition since 1980.

The office of educational research and improvement will award a total of up to $500,000 in fiscal 1986 for research "that is both significant and potentially useful for the betterment of knowledge" about the nation's schools and colleges, according to the department's announcement in the Jan. 6 Federal Register.

The department noted that its program officers would not give priority to any particular field of research when awarding the one-year grants. Rather, it said, officials will evaluate proposals on their own merits, and "only those projects of the highest quality will be supported."

Effects of Budget Cuts

The new competition is the first of its kind to be sponsored by the oeri since the final year of the Carter Administration, when the office had a budget of $84.1 million.

Budget cuts in subsequent years forced the office to channel practically all of its funds into its system of educational laboratories and research and development centers--which were under long-term grants and contracts--leaving no money for individual researchers.

Funding for the oeri reached a low point of $57 million in fiscal 1984. The office's appropriation rose to about $60 million in fiscal 1985 and is being held steady in the current fiscal year.

Striking a Balance

In an interview last September, Chester E. Finn Jr., assistant secretary for educational research and improvement, said his office4planned to strike a better balance between grants to institutions and those to individual researchers. He added that he "would have a real problem'' if the oeri continued to make primarily long-term institutional grants.

According to Ronald P. Preston, the office's deputy assistant secretary, the funds for the new competition were provided in the fiscal 1986 oeri appropriation.

Mr. Preston noted, however, that some portion of the amount earmarked for the grants may be "sequestered" to help reduce the federal deficit as required by the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings amendment.

Program Lauded

The department's announcement of the grants program was greeted enthusiastically by education researchers, who have been lobbying quietly for the past five years for the resumption of such an effort.

"The backbone of educational research in this country is the individual researcher, and for the last several years all of the funding has been institutional in scope," said David Berliner, professor of educational psychology at Arizona State University and president of the American Educational Research Association.

"A lot of our members have been shut out from funding because they're from Podunk, not Harvard and Stanford," Mr. Berliner continued. "There has been no money from the federal government for unsolicited grants in ages. This is something we've been fighting very hard for."

According to the announcement, grant applications will be accepted from any individual or agency determined by the Secretary of Education ''to be authorized and qualified by educational, scientific, or other relevant competence to carry out a proposed research project." The applications are due no later than July 31.

Vol. 05, Issue 18

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