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GAO hits programs for making teachers better

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Shoddy oversight and a lack of reliable testing methods make it difficult to know which federal programs geared to improve teacher quality are working, U.S. Comptroller General Gene L. Dodaro told a House hearing Wednesday.

Mr. Dodaro said many of those programs, spread across at least 10 federal agencies, offer redundant services, leading to millions or possibly even billions in wasted tax dollars. What's worse, the Government Accountability Office's report on government waste states that 23 of the federal government's 47 employment and training programs "have not had a performance study of any kind completed since 2004."

Some Republican members of the House Education and the Workforce Committee said they were troubled by the report.

Rep. Virginia Foxx, North Carolina Republican, said the Department of Education and other agencies "have failed completely" to set up any kind of evaluation methods.

"I think the American public would find that appalling," Mrs. Foxx said.

Committee Chairman John Kline, Minnesota Republican, said that with both parties looking for ways to stem the flow of red ink in the federal budget. Congress needs to act to reduce duplication of services.

Rep. David P. Roe, Tennessee Republican, said: "There is no business in the world that would spend the kind of money we're spending and not find out if it's effective."

Mr. Dodaro's report also found the federal government operates "82 distinct programs" geared toward improving teacher quality in public schools, "however there is no governmentwide strategy to minimize fragmentation, overlap or potential duplication."

Of the federal government's 47 employment and training programs, the GAO found instances of overlap with 44 of them.

The Workforce Investment Act of 1998 requires that each program conduct an "impact evaluation," but full results for the 47 programs aren't expected until 2015, Mr. Dodaro said.

A major problem is many of the programs are small in price and scope, thus falling under the radar of the public and even Congress, according to the GAO.

Fifty-three of the teacher quality programs get $50 million or less in funding, the GAO reported. Mr. Dodaro said it is difficult to estimate how much money could be saved by a serious consolidation since the costs are often spread out across various agencies at the federal level. Further complicating matters, state and local agencies also participate, and the money is handed out across the country to government bodies or organizations.

Democratic members of the committee, led by ranking member Rep. George Miller, California Democrat, questioned Mr. Dodaro on whether the programs are truly wasteful, or if the duplication of some services actually improves effectiveness.

Mr. Dodaro said it's difficult to tell without more comprehensive study, though Mr. Kline said "jurisdictional" turf wars between committees in the House could make it difficult to implement serious reform.

The GAO in its survey recommended enhanced program evaluations, better coordination among federal agencies and the consolidation of programs after evaluations are complete.

In its fiscal 2012 budget proposal, the Obama administration, led by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, has proposed reforms to teacher quality programs. Mr. Duncan wants to consolidate 38 programs into 11, an idea praised by Mr. Dodaro and members of the committee.

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