$30 Million in Grants Will Support Research Across Diverse Fields

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Three federal agencies have unveiled a $30 million grant program to support cross-disciplinary research in education.

The program announced last month marks the first time the agencies--the Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development--have collaborated to provide funds for research into learning.

"We think that some of the most fertile ground for new ideas is on the boundaries between disciplines," said John Cherniavsky, the senior adviser for research in the NSF's directorate for education and human resources.

With its $22 million contribution, the foundation is underwriting the lion's share of the new grant program. The remaining $8 million comes from the Education Department. The child-health agency, a branch of the National Institutes of Health, comes to the partnership for now as only an intellectual partner.

Solving Problems

In size, the new Interagency Education Research Initiative will rival the Education Department's field-initiated-studies program. Unlike that grant program, though, federal officials, rather than the researchers, will determine the kinds of studies that receive funds.

"It really is a major deviation from the way we've done work in the past because it's more problem-oriented," said Richard L. Venezky, a University of Delaware professor who is now a visiting scholar and consultant to the department's research branch.

This year, for example, the agencies are aiming to support 50 studies in three specific "problem" areas:

  • Children's readiness for learning reading and mathematics;
  • Learning in grades K-3 in reading, math, and science; and
  • Preparing teachers in those subjects to better understand both content knowledge in their disciplines and the science underlying children's cognitive development and learning.

To qualify for grants, researchers will have to involve experts from a variety of disciplines. Collaborators might include, for example, cognitive scientists, economists, educators, developmental psychologists, and mathematicians.

The grant recipients will also meet several times a year to share progress reports.

The grants, scheduled to be awarded in the early fall, will range from $150,000 for most three-year grants to as much as $6 million for one or two longer ones. The proposal deadline is May 14.

"The long-term goal is to develop and implement large-scale educational interventions to inform policy and practice," said James A. Griffin, a research analyst who is heading the initiative for the Education Department.

Large Populations Targeted

Such large-scale efforts, program developers say, might involve one or more entire school districts, for instance, rather than a few individual classrooms as is typical of many education studies now. The hope is that studying large populations--a common practice in medical research--could raise the credibility of the findings.

Mr. Griffin said the initiative grew out of research recommendations from a 1997 report by a presidential advisory commission examining the use of technology in improving education.

But, he added, "we're not funding research on technology per se, but really how technology can be used as a tool in all these areas."

Agency officials are hoping the initiative will last at least five years. The collaboration might yet prove rocky, however.

Studies supported individually in the past by the Education Department and the NICHD have sometimes reached opposite conclusions on matters such as how to teach beginning reading. But such conflicts have not yet marred the partnership, participants said.

Vol. 18, Issue 26, Page 21

Published in Print: March 10, 1999, as $30 Million in Grants Will Support Research Across Diverse Fields
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