Migrant Children:

Education and HHS Need to Improve the Exchange of Participant Information

HEHS-00-4: Published: Oct 15, 1999. Publicly Released: Nov 1, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Department of Education's Migrant Education Program (MEP) and the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Migrant Head Start Program (MHS), focusing on: (1) the goals of the MEP and MHS programs, how they operate, who they serve, and what services they provide; (2) the extent to which Education and HHS facilitate the coordination of MEP and MHS services within each of their programs and between the two programs; and (3) how well Education and HHS determine whether MEP and MHS achieve their goals and objectives.

GAO noted that: (1) MEP and MHS was created to provide assistance to migrant children by providing a wide spectrum of health, educational, nutritional, and social services; (2) MEP's major goal is to ensure that migrant children have the opportunity to meet the same state educational standards as other children, a goal geared to the needs of elementary and secondary school students who constitute about 82 percent of its participants; (3) MEP serves children of workers engaged in crop and a variety of agricultural activities; (4) MEP services vary across states, districts', and schools and are provided in accordance with state and district standards; (5) in contrast, MHS' primary goal--to promote school readiness--reflects the needs of the preschool children it serves; (6) to achieve this goal; MHS provides funds to grantees to establish infant and preschool centers that provide comprehensive and uniform services for eligible migrant children up to 6 years of age of crop workers only; (7) MHS provides prescribed health, nutritional, social, and educational services according to federal standards; (8) neither Education nor HHS has a system to transfer participant information between different locations within each program, despite the need to transfer key information in a timely way as students move around the country; (9) although some states and grantees have designed their own systems to track students who move within their boundaries, none supports student information exchange on a national level; (10) during GAO's site visits, some officials said that federal leadership is needed to develop two national systems--one for MEP and one for MHS--that could support the exchange of essential student information on a national level and that could also help increase coordination between migrant student service providers at the state and local levels; (11) although both Education and HHS have collected substantial data for MEP and MHS such as numbers of participants and services, the data do not enable either department to evaluate program outcomes and determine the extent to which the program goals are met; (12) this is partly because of fundamental measurement problems associated with collecting outcome data for these programs; (13) as noted in the performance plans required by the Government Performance and Results Act, both Education and HHS intend to expand their data collection efforts to include some outcome data in the future; and (14) however, the usefulness of these data to describe MEP and MHS outcomes on a national level is likely to be limited because, for example, MEP data will not be comparable across states.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Although the official definition of agricultural work used by Migrant Education has not changed, HHS did examine the possibility of expanding the types of activities included in the definition, and has broadened its interpretation of agricultural work.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should examine the advisability of expanding the types of activities included in MHS' definition of agricultural work to harmonize with those that are considered agricultural work under MEP. In undertaking this examination, the Secretary should consider the resource implications of broadening this definition.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Public Law 107-110, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, requires the Secretary of Education to ensure the linkage of migrant student record systems for the purpose of exchanging health and education information regarding migrant students.

    Recommendation: To improve services to children, the Secretaries of Education and Health and Human Services both should develop nationwide systems to transmit essential information about each participant, Education's system to track MEP participants from school district to school district and HHS' system to track MHS participants from center to center.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January 2004, the Head Start Bureau launched a new pilot study--"Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Research Design Development Project"--that will be used to guide the development of appropriate and effective research designs for a first-time national evaluation of Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs. Also, in September 2003, the Head Start Bureau published performance indicators for Early Head Start and Migrant Head Start Programs in order to develop outcome accountability for these programs.

    Recommendation: Because government agencies need to provide a clear picture of how their programs are working, the Secretaries of Education and Health and Human Services should include in their respective research and evaluation plans studies that measures the outcomes of MEP and MHS and the extent to which the programs are meeting their goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Office of Migrant Education initiated a pilot comprehensive need assessment program in 2002 in four states to collect data on migrant students in the areas of school readiness, reading, math, and high school graduation. Once the assessment has been field tested and documented, Education will share the results with state directors of migrant education and disseminate an assessment product that they can use in their states. Also, in 2003, Education investigated the extent to which migrant students participated in state assessments and the types and quality of academic outcome data for migrant students. Findings of this investigation are presented in "The Same High Standards for Migrant Students: Holding Title I Schools Accountable."

    Recommendation: Because government agencies need to provide a clear picture of how their programs are working, the Secretaries of Education and Health and Human Services should include in their respective research and evaluation plans studies that measures the outcomes of MEP and MHS and the extent to which the programs are meeting their goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

 

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