Last week I blogged about the recently released draft recommendations of the Joint Legislative Commission on Dropout Prevention and High School Graduation. Aside from one recommendation calling on the newly created Office of Performance Evaluation to develop an evaluation of the dropout prevention grants, I found the recommendations weak and offered little in the way of reversing a serious and vexing problem. The plan to involve the Office of Performance Evaluation made a lot of sense and was a good step in the right direction. Before spending more money on dropout grants, lawmakers need to know what programs are working and not working.
Well, this week the commission released revised recommendations. Conspicuously absent from the recommendations is any mention of the Performance Evaluation Division and plans to evaluate dropout prevention grants. Instead, the commission decided that it – not the Performance Evaluation Division — will evaluate the impact of the dropout grants. At a hearing earlier this week to discuss the new recommendations, commission co-chair Vernon Malone responded to questions about the change by saying – and I paraphrase – commission members are in the best position to know about these programs. They are honorable people, and if they feel some programs aren’t working, they, will not be shy about hiding the facts.
Huh? Does anyone really believe commission members are in a better position to objectively evaluate the impact of the grants it distributes? Even if commission members were more knowledgeable than evaluators, I contend that having commission members evaluate dropout prevention programs is still a bad thing, simply because it fosters a legitimate perception of partiality or conflict of interest. Curiously, later in the same sentence that outlines the new changes, the commission recommends that, “appropriate funds for an INDEPENDENT (emphasis mine) consultant to staff the Committee and provide technical assistance to grant recipients.” The commission’s concern with independence and objectivity seems selective and best. Are we back again to business as usual at the Legislature?