Education Dept. Plans To Break Up Evaluation Office

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It's an obscure little office, just 50 or so people within the sprawling Department of Education bureaucracy.

But the Planning and Evaluation Service, given that one of its duties has been to pass judgment on the agency's flagship programs, has drawn considerable political heat and attention during past Democratic and Republican administrations alike. Rightly or wrongly, the political party out of power has often looked askance at the conclusions put out by the service and its longtime director, Alan L. Ginsburg.

"They've been analysts to whomever was in power," said Jack Jennings, the director of the Center on Education Policy, a Washington think tank, and a former education aide to House Democrats. "All things considered, being under political pressure, they've tried to call it as straight as they can."

Now, the current Bush administration, under the leadership of Secretary of Education Rod Paige, has decided to break up the office and divide its various responsibilities three ways. According to Eugene W. Hickok, the undersecretary of education, politics has nothing to do with the decision.

Eugene W. Hickok

"I can't say I know of any political problems," Mr. Hickok said last week. "If anything, this will ameliorate any political problems. ... The goal here is good policy and program analysis that helps guide good policy and programs."

The department announced this month that it will create a new office, reporting to Mr. Hickok, as the Planning and Evaluation Service has, called the "Policy and Program Studies Service." That office, likely to have about half the old office's workers, will continue to evaluate such major programs as Title I, which helps subsidize schools with disadvantaged students, and generate occasional policy papers.

A few employees from the current office, perhaps eight, according to Mr. Hickok, will move to the office of educational research and improvement and work on longer-term research on broad education issues. The remainder, he said, will be engaged in strategic planning and an initiative to consolidate the agency's somewhat out-of-date data- collection systems into a centralized electronic one. None of these moves requires congressional approval, officials said.

The goal, according to the Education Department's Web site, is to take the $100 million or so that the agency spends each year collecting data and analyzing results and find "a better way to conceptualize, organize, and execute program evaluation."

Will Mr. Ginsburg head the new policy and program-studies office? Mr. Hickok hedged when asked about that.

"It's too early to say," he said. "That's not to give you any hints of whether he will or will not."

But Christopher T. Cross, a senior fellow with the Center on Education Policy and a former assistant secretary of education in the first Bush administration who is close to current department leaders, said he had been told that Mr. Ginsburg will get the job. He described Mr. Ginsburg, who was on a business trip to China until April 19 and thus unavailable to comment last week, as providing "an institutional memory" for the agency.

Mr. Hickok would not confirm reports that Ricky Takai, one of Mr. Ginsburg's lieutenants, would have a leadership role at the research office.

A Competing Plan?

The new arrangement would seem to be a departure from what Congress envisions for what amounts to internal auditing, from a policy point of view, of the department's education programs.

A bill pending in the House to reauthorize legislation controlling the OERI's operations, sponsored by Rep. Michael N. Castle, R-Del., contemplates forming a National Center for Education Evaluation, complete with its own presidentially appointed commissioner. That center, according to the legislation in its current form, would evaluate programs administered by the education secretary. And, "as time and resources allow," the bill says, the proposed center would analyze the efficacy of other education programs as well.

That setup, at least in theory, could provide a political buffer for the analyses, similar to that of the National Center for Education Statistics. The NCES exists within the Education Department but has its own commissioner.

Mr. Hickok said he was unfamiliar with chapter and verse of the Castle bill. But he said that to his knowledge, the proposed legislation and the department's reorganization of evaluation functions were in concert.

Vol. 21, Issue 31, Pages 25-26

Published in Print: April 17, 2002, as Education Dept. Plans To Break Up Evaluation Office
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