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Chapter 2 Officials Seek Support Through National Evaluation

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New Orleans--State administrators of the Chapter 2 education block-grants program, during their first national meeting here, took steps last week to bolster support for their programs in the Congress and among the general public.

Convinced that a coordinated national evaluation of Chapter 2 will be an essential ingredient in obtaining future support, the directors acted to ensure that they will be examining and measuring the same things when they conduct their first program evaluations this year.

The main result of the three-day meeting was the creation of a national evaluation agenda by the program coordinators. The agenda, developed from an opinion canvass during the meeting, will be refined by a committee of coordinators representing eight geographic regions and then sent back to the conference participants for final approval later this year.

"There is no natural advocacy group for Chapter 2 as there is, for example, for Chapter 1," said Charlie G. Williams, superintendent of education in South Carolina. "The future of the program will rest on an evaluation system that supports the notion that Chapter 2 does make a difference for children."

Criteria Not Specified

The 1981 law that created the block-grants program requires state officials to evaluate state and local activities annually beginning with the fiscal year 1984. But the law, which was designed to shift responsibility for program administration from federal to state officials, did not mandate the facets of Chapter 2 that were to be included in those evaluations.

Last year, the state coordinators asked the Education Department to sponsor a meeting in Washington to help them reach an agreement on uniform evaluation criteria. The department initially agreed and set a date in April for the gathering, but then cancelled the event.

According to federal Chapter 2 officials, the decision not to hold the meeting was made, in part, to signal to the state coordinators that the primary responsibility for coordinating the evaluations would have to rest with them.

Although last week's gathering was "endorsed" by the department, it was organized by the state officials through the offices of the Southeastern Regional Council for Educational Improvement, a 12-state consortium based in North Carolina.

Vindicates Administration

In a telephone interview last week, Gary L. Bauer, the department's deputy assistant secretary for budget, planning, and evaluation, said that the fact that the meeting took place, coupled with the apparently strong support for the program voiced by the participants, vindicates the Reagan Administration in its belief "that state and local officials are closest to the problems and that given the opportunity, they will address those problems much better than we bureaucrats in Washington."

Mr. Bauer added that he was pleased by reports that many state officials have muted their initial criticism of the program "as nothing more than a guise for budget reductions."

"It's hard to learn how to compliment something that you originally criticized," said Mr. Williams of South Carolina during the meeting. "We now find ourselves in a position similar to that of a mother who tells her daughter not to marry a certain boy, but when she goes ahead and does it anyway, the mother has to learn how to brag about her new son-in-law to her neighbors."

Although Mr. Williams said he originally viewed Chapter 2 skeptically, the Administration's proposal to boost the program's level of funding from $479 million at present to $729 million in the upcoming fiscal year has convinced him of its importance to the Administration.

Advocacy Group

"The message is that something has to be done to improve education and that Chapter 2 is going to be the way to deal with the situation," he said. "If there is going to be an advocacy group for the block-grant type of funding, it will be this group, and success will rely on its ability to prove that the program has made a difference."

According to James H. Mendenhall, manager of educational innovation and support for the Illinois Board of Education, many Chapter 2 coordinators did not recognize the political value of comprehensive national evaluations when they administered some of the federal programs that were folded into the block-grants legislation.

For example, he said, the Title IV-C program, which awarded competitive grants to school districts for innovative projects, "was never evaluated well at the national level, and we watched it go down the drain."

"That program never developed its own constituency or support network," Mr. Mendenhall said. "We are going to need parental and community support for Chapter 2 if it is to survive. And we need to get that support before there is a problem."

"Frankly, we learned our lessons the hard way," added Margaret Mauter, associate director of the Ohio Department of Education's division of educational services. "We realize that we have to set up a strong evaluation process shortly after the legislation has been implemented and that we need to keep at it."

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