Make States Account For Training Grants

AS Congress begins final consideration of bills aimed at providing states with the flexibility to improve adult education, reform job-training programs, and create successful pathways from school to work, the need for accountability measures should be a vital concern. Just as educators at the elementary, secondary, and post-secondary levels understand the need to account for the successes and failures of their educational programs, so too do educators and policymakers engaged in literacy, job training, and school-to-work.

The reason is simple: Programs that can't demonstrate results, no matter how effective they may be, will be viewed as programs that can't get results. For example, 30 years ago when Congress passed Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act - which aims to provide remedial education services to disadvantaged children - federal lawmakers mandated that educators use valid, fair, and reliable assessments as measures of the program's success.

Today's ''education consumers'' - students, parents, displaced workers, and policymakers - demand proof of results from our education and job-training programs. And as taxpayers, we are entitled to a fair accounting of how our tax dollars are being spent. Congress should require nothing less.

The 104th Congress is moving in the right direction. The House and Senate have passed bills that will provide states with flexibility through block grants. These bills are now on their way to conference committee. As stipulated in the bills, block grants will allow states to create, develop, implement, and manage job-training, literacy, adult-education, and school-to-work programs. It is vital, however, that the Senate - in its consideration of these proposed reforms - recognize the importance of accountability mechanisms and provide for them in block grants.

Accountability is the vital and necessary complement to flexibility. The word ''results'' means little without accountability. Without meaningful mechanisms, Congress itself won't be able to determine how effectively federal funds are being spent. The states, on the other hand, won't be able to determine if their programs work. In essence, block grants without accountability mechanisms are nothing more than entitlements.

Placing a strong emphasis on accountability is not to suggest a new burdensome body of federal regulations stipulating myriad assessment activities for federally funded, state-run job-training, adult-education, and school-to-work programs. Rather, there should be a simple stipulation: Require the states to give an account of progress toward meeting their programs' objectives.

In the same way that business holds its managers and officers accountable for how they meet corporate goals and stay within budget, Congress should hold its grant recipients accountable. Under one widely accepted management model, an employer sets the goals and provides the manager with the resources and flexibility to achieve them. The manager is free to direct the program, but is held accountable for the results.

Accountability - established through accurate and consistent assessment activities - is a key component in the educational enterprise. The use of a variety of assessment tools or ''multiple measures'' by state educators can effectively capture the information they need for sound assessment of their programs.

Just as Congress aims to provide block grants to the states so that the states - not the federal government - can create, develop, implement, and manage these programs, the states should select the accountability measures that best reflect their programs. The federal taxpayer, the education consumer, and Congress are owed this accounting.

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