Government on the scale, cont'd
A reader who spends a lot of time delivering metrics to the government was not happy to hear Sen. Kent Conrad and others saying that there are no metrics or evaluation components behind most government programs, and in particular for job-training programs. His e-mail follows. I'm interested in this subject, by the way, so if anyone else wants to write in on it, feel free:
I am a grant-writer and program manager at a nonprofit that receives many federal grants. WE LIVE AND DIE BY METRICS! Almost to the point, in my opinion, of spending too much money for compliance and performance-measurement systems, and not enough money on the actual training. In rough terms, we hire one full-time compliance and performance staff person for every 10 staff who actually work with people. All of the federal job training programs have performance metrics. In fact, many have started using the so-called Common Measures, a simplified, standardized system for measuring outcomes across different agencies. The three Common Measures for adult training programs are:
- Percent placed into employment.
- Percent retained in employment for six months.
- Earnings change at six months.
For youth programs, the Common Measures are:
- Placement in employment or higher education.
- Attainment of a degree or an industry-recognized credential.
- Increase in reading and/or math scores among youth who have skill deficiencies.
Different agencies use additional measures, and yes, those get complicated. And I'm not saying these systems are perfect. But the federal government has become increasingly better, ever since the passage of GPRA, at using metrics. It drives me a little nuts to spend so much time out here in the field collecting, analyzing, and reporting performance metrics, and then to have a politician claim that "there were almost no metrics on any of them." No, simply not true. They're just ignorant of the data that is available. As one example, check out:
One last note, in case you really want to dive into this issue: In some programs, future funding gets tied to performance, creating an unhealthy obsession with the metrics. For example, programs start "creaming," or accepting only clients that are somewhat more likely to succeed. Because the metrics are not weighted to encourage job training for, say, high school dropouts, programs have a very hard time serving that population. They want to help the high school dropout, but they know the chances of success are so low, and their jobs depend on meeting these metrics, so they opt to enroll instead an unemployed person who at least has a high school diploma. This is inside baseball, as Obama would say, but that's the real struggle in the field. Grantees like my organization are trying to serve people who are most in need, and we're caught between these daunting skill deficiencies in our clients and the rigorous performance standards we must meet in order to keep our jobs. For someone like Conrad to claim that there are no metrics -- he misses the point entirely.
| January 3, 2011; 2:31 PM ET
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