Foreign Assistance:

Enhanced Coordination and Better Methods to Assess the Results of U.S. International Basic Education Efforts Are Needed

GAO-07-523: Published: Mar 30, 2007. Publicly Released: Mar 30, 2007.

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Pub. L. No. 109-102, section 567, mandated that GAO analyze U.S. international basic education efforts overseas. In this report, GAO (1) describes U.S. agencies' basic education activities and how the agencies plan them; (2) examines U.S. coordination of basic education efforts among U.S. agencies, and with host governments and international donors; and (3) examines how U.S. agencies assess the results of their basic education programs. In conducting this work, GAO obtained and analyzed relevant agencies' documents and met with U.S. and foreign government officials and nongovernmental organizations, traveling to selected recipient countries.

Several U.S. agencies--the Departments of Agriculture (USDA), Defense (DOD), Labor (DOL), and State, as well as the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Peace Corps--support basic education activities overseas. State and USAID have strategic goals specific to promoting improved education. Several other U.S. agencies support basic education-related activities as part of programs that address their broader mission goals. For example, DOL supports alternative school programs as a way to remove children from exploitative work, USDA provides school meals or take-home rations to students, and DOD constructs dormitories and schools to provide better access for children who have to travel long distances to attend classes. GAO found that agencies did not always coordinate in the planning or delivery of basic education-related activities. From 2001 to 2006, there was no government-wide mechanism to facilitate interagency collaboration and, as a result, GAO identified instances where agencies missed opportunities to collaborate and maximize U.S. resources. In addition, GAO found that the level of U.S. coordination with host governments and other donors in the eight visited countries varied. Without effective coordination, donors cannot easily monitor or assess the host government's progress toward achieving international goals, such as Education for All by 2015, one of State-USAID's strategic goals. While U.S. agencies GAO reviewed conduct basic education-related programs to achieve different goals, most collect and use output measures, such as the numbers of schools built or children enrolled, to assess and report on results. USAID is the only agency with an education-specific goal of increasing access to quality basic education. However, in many instances, USAID faces challenges in collecting valid and reliable data needed to measure improvements in education quality. Without this information, agency officials cannot fully determine if the programs are achieving their strategic goals.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GAO's March 2007 report, FOREIGN ASSISTANCE: Enhanced Coordination and Better Methods to Assess the Results of U.S. International Basic Education Efforts Are Needed, found that agencies did not always coordinate in the planning or delivery of basic education-related activities. From 2001 to 2006, there was no government-wide mechanism to facilitate interagency collaboration and, as a result, GAO identified instances where agencies missed opportunities to collaborate and maximize U.S. resources. For example, USAID officials responsible for planning and managing USAID's basic education programs were not present at key DOL and USDA meetings at which the planning of overseas education-related activities were discussed, or were not aware of some agencies' basic education-related activities. Although we recognized that State's Director of Foreign Assistance (DFA) had begun to address this issue by attempting to implement a country-wide program planning and budgeting process, we noted that this process was still evolving, and that it was yet to be determined what impact these efforts would have on future strategic planning of education-related assistance. As a result, we concluded that without a government-wide mechanism to systematically coordinate all agency efforts in basic education at the headquarters level, agencies' programs may not maximize the effectiveness of U.S. basic education assistance. To improve interagency coordination of basic education efforts at headquarters in Washington, we recommended that the Secretary of State work with the heads of executive branch agencies responsible for international basic education-related assistance to convene formal, periodic meetings at the headquarters level amongst cognizant officials. State generally concurred with our recommendations and noted that its Office of the Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance was in the process of developing mechanisms to ensure coordination of U.S. assistance programs with other federal agencies, implementers, and stakeholders. In response to this recommendation, in May 2007 State created the position of Basic Education Coordinator within the DFA Office, responsible for directing the strategic use of U.S. basic education assistance. This position was also called for by the 2008 Appropriations Act, which directed State to establish the Coordinator position with primary responsibility for the oversight and coordination of all resources and international activities of the United States Government that provide assistance in developing countries for basic education. The first Coordinator in this position contacted all U.S. agencies involved in basic education assistance to gather information for a report to the Committees on Appropriation on the implementation of United States Government assistance programs in developing countries for basic education?as called for by the State, Foreign Operations and Related Program Appropriations Act of 2008. The Coordinator submitted this report to Congress in October, 2008 in Excel workbook form. The Coordinator also published a strategic framework for basic education assistance with recommendations to, among other things, concentrate basic education efforts on measuring education quality and convene a Basic Education Foreign Assistance Council on a quarterly basis, or as needed, with participation from all United States Government agencies supporting basic education abroad.

    Recommendation: To enhance efforts to coordinate and better assess the results of U.S. international basic education-related activities and to improve interagency coordination of basic education efforts at headquarters in Washington, the Secretary of State should work with the heads of executive branch agencies responsible for international basic education-related assistance to convene formal, periodic meetings at the headquarters level amongst cognizant officials.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GAO's March 2007 report, FOREIGN ASSISTANCE: Enhanced Coordination and Better Methods to Assess the Results of U.S. International Basic Education Efforts Are Needed, report found that agencies did not always coordinate in the planning or delivery of basic education-related activities. In the eight countries the GAO team visited, the report noted several instances where project implementers in the countries did not collaborate or take advantage of opportunities to maximize U.S. resources in areas in which they had similar objectives of improving the quality of education. For example, in several of these countries, DOL could have joined USAID's efforts to effect policy reforms directed at rural youth by using USAID's delivery mechanisms of radio and television programming, as well as printed materials to raise public awareness of child labor issues. Although we recognized that State's Director of Foreign Assistance (DFA) had begun to address this issue by attempting to implement a country-wide program planning and budgeting process, we noted that this process was still evolving, and that it was yet to be determined what impact these efforts would have on future strategic planning of education-related assistance. To improve interagency coordination in recipient countries, we recommended that the Secretary of State direct the relevant countries' Ambassadors to establish a mechanism to formally coordinate U.S. agencies' implementation of international basic education-related activities in the relevant country. In its 60-day letter, State agreed that a mechanism to coordinate U.S. agencies in-country was necessary, but stated that such coordination should occur through a centralized office (i.e. the Director Foreign Assistance (DFA)). State noted that the DFA's Country Operational Plans would be the proper vehicle to address this recommendation, stating that these plans would capture information on basic education activities, their funding, the agencies executing those activities, and the results to be achieved. Additionally, to improve in-country coordination, State also noted that the DFA and USAID have begun piloting the use of 5-year Country Assistance Strategies in 10 countries. These Country Assistance Strategies would identify and describe U.S. foreign assistance goals for a particular country and provide a sense of prioritization among these goals for the next 5 years. State and USAID expect that the strategies will improve interagency coordination in headquarters and the field, inform agencies' budgetary and programmatic decisions, and improve responsiveness to host-country priorities, among other things.

    Recommendation: To enhance efforts to coordinate and better assess the results of U.S. international basic education-related activities and to improve interagency coordination in recipient countries, the Secretary of State should direct the relevant countries' Ambassadors to establish a mechanism to formally coordinate U.S. agencies' implementation of international basic education-related activities in the relevant country.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GAO's March 2007 report, FOREIGN ASSISTANCE: Enhanced Coordination and Better Methods to Assess the Results of U.S. International Basic Education Efforts Are Needed, found that in many instances, USAID faced challenges in collecting valid and reliable data needed to measure improvements in education quality. Without this information, agency officials could not fully determine if the programs were achieving their strategic goals. To better assess the results of U.S. basic education assistance, we recommended that the Secretary of State, through the Director of Foreign Assistance (DFA), work with USAID and to the extent practicable with other U.S. agencies providing basic education related-assistance, to develop a plan to identify indicators that would help agencies track improvements in access to quality education, including outcome measures such as literacy and numeracy assessments of student achievement. State generally concurred with our recommendations, stating that the DFA would work with USAID to develop better measures of education quality. Since then, our report has led to greater attention paid to the issue of measuring education quality. In particular, it led to the development of several outcome-based instruments for measuring education quality that are currently being piloted and/or implemented in the field by the Ed Data II project at USAID. Since our report was issued, the Ed Data II project has expanded the development of an Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA), an Early Grade Mathematics Assessment (EGMA), and a Snapshot of School Management Effectiveness (SSME). These tools are intended to demonstrate improvements in teaching methods and school-community relations, in the early grades, based on the information they provide. According to USAID, these tools can be used in a fairly quick manner to produce easily accessible, scientifically valid information on children's learning levels in the early grades. Each the tools is in the public domain and hence available to others for adaptation. According to USAID, these tools, or some adapted version of them (which is encouraged), have been used in some 20 countries and in 15 languages. Additionally, according to USAID, our report contributed to the creation of USAID's Education Sector Council's Data Working Group, which is attempting to develop an indicator of education quality that can be measured across USAID's Missions and programs. For example, this Working Group invited the Basic Education Coalition's Evaluation Working Group (a group of non-profit implementors of education programs) to make practical recommendations for possible indicators that are now under consideration. One indicator that was suggested was the number or percent of USAID Missions that have a teaching/learning activity that measures Learning Outcome(s) with validity and reliability.

    Recommendation: To enhance efforts to coordinate and better assess the results of U.S. international basic education-related activities and to better assess the results of U.S. basic education assistance, the Secretary of State, through the Director of Foreign Assistance, should work with USAID and to the extent practicable, with other U.S. agencies providing basic education related-assistance to develop a plan to identify indicators that would help agencies track improvements in access to quality education. Indicators could include output measures, such as the numbers of U.S. programs designed to improve curriculum and teacher training, and to develop and validate student tests; and outcome measures, such as literacy and numeracy assessments of student achievement.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

 

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