E.D. Awards 5-Year Grants to 10 Regional Research Labs

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The Department of Education has awarded five-year grants to 10 regional education laboratories--including two new ones--worth a total of $41 million a year.

Control of the labs turned over in two designated laboratory regions--the Mid-Atlantic, serving Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania; and the Northeast and Islands, which includes seven Northeastern states, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Those grants went to Temple University and Brown University, respectively.

First funded by the federal government in 1966, the regional labs are charged with taking research findings and transforming them into useful ideas for schools in their geographic areas.

This time around, as part of an effort to overhaul the department's research operations, the labs were asked to expand that mission and to develop national expertise in a particular area, such as urban education or assessment. (See box, this page.)

"We want them to be first responsive to their region, but we also want them to be ready to serve the nation through this system of labs," said Sharon P. Robinson, the assistant secretary for the department's office of educational research and improvement, which oversees the labs.

Temple, Brown Get Nod

In the Mid-Atlantic region, where at least four groups competed for the contract, the award went to the Center for Research in Human Development and Education at Temple University in Philadelphia. That group replaces Research for Better Schools, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit organization that has operated the region's lab for 29 years and had bid to continue doing so.

Margaret Wang, who heads up the new laboratory, said it will specialize in urban education.

The lab, which will receive $4.5 million this year, has also proposed to establish regional councils of education school deans and of professional education organizations. It also plans to set up an extension system akin to the Department of Agriculture's extension service to better serve hard-to-reach rural schools.

The $4.9-million contract to operate the laboratory for the Northeast and Islands went to the Education Alliance for Equity and Excellence at Brown University in Providence, R.I.

Adeline Becker, the new lab's interim director, said the university is working in partnership with Hunter College at the City University of New York and has also recruited dozens of other universities and research firms throughout the region to help in its efforts.

Previous Lab's Plans

The newly named Northeast and Islands Regional Educational Laboratory at Brown will be one of two labs specializing in language and cultural diversity.

Meanwhile, the Regional Laboratory for Educational Improvement of the Northeast and Islands, based in Andover, Mass., which has operated its region's federal lab for 10 years, says it plans to retain its name and continue to operate as a private organization.

"We believe we still have a lot to contribute," said Janet Angelis, a spokesman for the organization, who noted that its proposal requested less funding than the one that was approved.

The Andover-based lab ran into controversy more than two years ago after federal auditors determined that its partner organization, The Network Inc., had improperly billed the federal government for expenses. The Network disputed the audit but later agreed to pay back $225,000 in expenses. (See Education Week, Sept. 7, 1994.)

The trouble prompted the lab to sever its ties to its sister organization.

Ms. Robinson said the lab's past difficulties played no role in the department's decision to give the award to Brown University, where a number of national school-reform efforts, such as the Coalition of Essential Schools, are already based.

"The decision turned on the proposal itself and not on the incumbent's previous performance," she said.

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