School & District Management Opinion

School Improvement RFP of the Week (I): Can We Expect Independent Program Evaluation if It’s Not Put Out to Bid?

By Marc Dean Millot — May 27, 2008 3 min read
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DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, DC City Council, American Enterprise Resident Scholar Frederick Hess, Brown University Professor Kenneth Wong, Public Education Fund, take note (here and here).

From Tuesday’s issue of K-12Leads and Youth Service Markets Report

Announcement: Teaching American History (TAH) Grant Evaluator, Due June 9, Mesa Public Schools, Arizona

Their Description:

(Mesa Public Schools) is looking for an evaluator to work in collaboration with the Project Director and Steering Committee to design and implement a three-year evaluation... of.... East Meets Southwest: Traditional American History for Mesa Public School Teachers....

(The) Professional development program for elementary and secondary teachers at Mesa Public Schools.... will immerse two district social studies specialists and 35, 4th to 8th grade teachers from eight of the districts’ most disadvantaged and underachieving schools in a program focusing on traditional American History content and content-based teaching strategies. Teachers will receive training.... 1) using primary and secondary resources; 2) formulating questions through inquiry and determining their importance; 3) analyzing how historians use evidence and artifacts; 4) understanding how historians develop differing interpretations; 5) examining bias and points of view; 6) understanding historical debate and controversy; 7) examining how causation relates to continuity/change; 8) discovering interrelationships among themes, regions, time periods; and 9) learning that any understanding of the past requires an understanding of the assumptions and the values of the past. The overall project goal is to improve teacher knowledge of traditional American history content so that they can offer effective instruction in their classrooms.

TAH Evaluator Responsibilities include....

• Active participation/observation...

• Providing regular feedback... to project director and steering committees...

• Identifying/developing instruments for formative and summative assessment;

• Collecting and analyzing data....

• Preparing annual performance reports...

• Attending annual TAH Project Director and Evaluator Conference....

TAH Evaluator Qualifications....

• Masters Degree or higher

• Knowledge of research, design, statistics, and evaluation

• Previous experience teaching or providing professional development.

• Experience in conducting evaluations in public school settings. Prior evaluation of Teaching American History grants preferred....

My Thoughts:
There is an enormous incentive for grantees and even grantors to demonstrate that the funds they employ are not a waste. Objective reviews avoid evaluators with ideological, programmatic or financial stakes for or against the success of the programs they review. Public policy dictates against not only real conflicts of interest, but relationships creating apparent conflicts that might undermine the public’s belief in perfectly legitimate findings. The only way to achieve this level of credibility is to put education projects and their evaluation projects out to bid separately.

Even a decade ago, program evaluation was virtually unheard of in k-12. Government and philanthropy simply assumed good ideas would catch on. When the idea of independent review first arose, it was difficult to find experts to fill the role. Expertise was limited. Most evaluators had their own programmatic bias and/or affiliations. That’s no longer true. Today, there’s no legitimate reason to “sole source” program reviews. (DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, take note.)

As scientifically based research becomes more important, even if only as a rhetorical objective, individuals and firms that have avoided conflicts and maintained a reputation for independence will find a growing line of business.

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