Magazine article Techniques

Keeping Pace with Perkins

Magazine article Techniques

Keeping Pace with Perkins

Article excerpt

Late last year, the career and technical education field was abuzz with the news that Congress had finally reauthorized the federal legislation that funds its programs. Now states must step up to the new Perkins Act and its accountability requirements--and their first deadline is just months away.

Russell McCampbell didn't want any surprises. In theory, the proposed federal formula for measuring how well career tech programs are serving students seemed like it would produce the right data, but Missouri's vocational education director wanted to make sure. He didn't want to be scrambling for answers if, when the state reports were released, his state's data raised a red flag. "I would rather be working now and seeing how my data is going to shake out and where my voids are--where I don't have data and where I do have good data," he says.

But McCampbell will be among the least surprised when it comes time to report to Congress as mandated under the 1998 Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act because he helped lay the foundation for the whole process. McCampbell led a pilot project this spring to see how difficult it would be for states to develop and use a uniform formula to produce state accountability data to comply with the new legislation. Missouri, Vermont and Florida comprised the experimental team. "The sole purpose behind it was to look at what data we had already and see whether or not we could come to an agreement that we were looking at roughly the same student across all three states," McCampbell says.

Comparing apples to apples

Last May, the three states' vocational education directors spent hours on conference calls trying to determine what data they had that was similar enough to compare. They soon realized that they could find comparable data.

"That really opened the doors," McCampbell says. Kathy Finck, Vermont's vocational education chief, says the project showed that developing this new system and finding existing data is "do-able."

To the U.S. Department of Education, the pilot project was an indication that state officials may be willing to work together on an accountability system. States had tried to tackle this before, but since each came to the table with its own definitions and formulas for measuring data, they had been reluctant to compromise. At the most basic level, states could not agree on who they were measuring--what constitutes a career and technical education student?

This time it's different--the new Perkins law mandates accountability. States must show exactly how their programs are performing. State and federal officials have no choice but to hammer out a formula so that states can present their data to Congress in a uniform way, so officials can compare apples to apples. And because the Education Department wants states to feel comfortable with the process, instead of developing a system and telling states what to do, it told them to brainstorm and craft a formula themselves.

"We didn't have to be prescriptive," says Ronald Castaldi, director of the Education Department's vocational-technical division, adding that the department provided the forum by hosting several meetings this year.

McCampbell agreed that the department's plan worked. "We really have had an opportunity to buy into this," he says.

A break from tradition

A number of states were resistant to the department's new way of doing business at first.

"Several [states] were used to very prescriptive regulations," McCampbell says. "They feel then that they know what the ground level is." Castaldi agrees, adding that states were used to the "machinery in place" to keep money flowing from Washington and didn't want changes.

Some states also were concerned that the new data might make them look bad in comparison with other states. To quell their concerns, Castaldi told them the department is out to measure individual progress and improvement rather than pit states against one another. …

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