Spencer Grants Seek To Shore Up Education Research

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A national foundation announced $12.5 million in grants to nine universities and the American Educational Research Association last week to offset a "decades-long decline" in funding for education research.

The Spencer Foundation awarded $11.25 million in "research-training grants" to nine major graduate schools of education. The money will help strengthen the quality of research and bring new researchers into the pipeline.

The Chicago-based philanthropy gave a $1.24 million grant to the Washington-based AERA, which will use it to set up a national fellowship program for graduate students in education research at other institutions.

Since its creation in 1971, the Spencer Foundation has provided about $100 million for research related to education.

"Improving education depends heavily upon developing new ideas that work," said Patricia Albjerg Graham, the foundation's president. "We need a new generation of researchers who can undertake this formidable challenge."

In the past 20 years, she noted, federal support for research in education has declined by nearly 90 percent, and private resources have not filled the void. A study by the National Academy of Sciences found that in 1991 the federal government spent about $310 million on education research and development, down from more than $1 billion in the early 1970s, in constant 1990 dollars.

"When there is a drop in funding like that," Ms. Graham said, "the people who suffer most acutely are the students because experienced scholars can still get funded." She cautioned that "if we do not continuously train new scholars, there will be a dearth of qualified experts in the near future."

Broad-Based Impact

The research-training grants will provide for fellowships and financial support to graduate students in doctoral-degree programs. The amounts awarded to the institutions vary to reflect differences in the size of their student populations.

Each university will experiment with a model tailored to its own needs. All nine have pledged to broaden the impact of the grants beyond the individual students who receive support.

The AERA fellowship competition will provide some 24 awards annually to students. The research organization will use its own funds to supplement the fellowships with seminars and other activities.

The foundation focused on schools of education "because many of the most interesting problems involving education today are problems of educational practice," Ms. Graham said. "And, on the whole, there is more interest in issues of educational practice in schools of education than there is in disciplinary departments."

The nine universities are: Harvard University, $2 million; the University of California, Los Angeles, $1.9 million; the University of Michigan, $1.2 million; the University of Wisconsin-Madison, $1.2 million; Michigan State University, $1 million; Teachers College, Columbia University, $1 million; the University of California, Berkeley, $1 million; the University of Pennsylvania, $1 million; and Stanford University, $900,000.

Research Grants

Here are the recipients of the Spencer Foundation grants announced last week:

  • Harvard University, graduate school of education: $2 million
  • University of California, Los Angeles, graduate school of education and information studies: $1.9 million
  • University of Michigan, school of education: $1.2 million
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison, school of education: $1.2 million
  • Michigan State University, college of education: $1 million
  • Teachers College, Columbia University: $1 million
  • University of California, Berkeley, graduate school of education: $1 million
  • University of Pennsylvania, graduate school of education: $1 million
  • Stanford University, school of education: $900,000

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