My family and I love to travel. We meticulously plot our route, researching all the exciting destinations and activities we will try. As we embark on our adventure, every new place offers novelty and learning. However, suppose we make any effort to document our journey or reflect upon our experiences. We travel from one location to another, soaking in the new sights and sounds but without a way to capture the moments or jot down our thoughts. Over time, the details of our journey will start to blur. We may lose track of which experiences brought the most joy, which places we might want to revisit, and which ones we’d rather avoid in the future.
Now, consider that this journey is akin to a school implementing a new educational intervention or program or curriculum. They’ve invested time and money and anticipate improvement and growth. They’re venturing into uncharted territory, hoping that the novel strategies will foster better educational outcomes. Yet, like the travel scenario, if they don’t reserve a portion of their budget and efforts for evaluation, they might lose track of the intervention’s effectiveness.
Program evaluation, like the camera or journal in a journey, captures and records the impact of the new intervention or program or curriculum. It helps you understand if an intervention is working, for whom, and under what conditions. It brings clarity about the strategies that are successful and those that are not. There are four big reasons why budgeting for program evaluation is essential.
- Evidence-based Decision Making
Program evaluation is a powerful tool in evidence-based decision-making. A comprehensive evaluation can identify the strengths and weaknesses of an intervention, providing invaluable data to inform future actions. It helps us understand what works, what doesn’t, and what may need adjustment. For instance, a reading program might be extremely effective for some students but less so for others. An evaluation can help uncover these discrepancies, guiding educators and policymakers in modifying the intervention or developing supplementary programs to meet all students’ needs. Without the evidence garnered from an evaluation, decision-makers might continue to pour resources into a program that is ineffective or does not provide equal benefits to all students.
Program evaluation also plays a pivotal role in ensuring cost-effectiveness. When implementing an educational intervention, it’s essential to know whether the invested resources are leading to the desired outcomes. Through program evaluation, institutions can identify ineffective interventions early on, preventing the further drain of resources into strategies that aren’t working. On the other hand, evaluations can also highlight cost-efficient practices and strategies, enabling institutions to amplify their impact without necessarily increasing their spending. Therefore, program evaluation helps ensure that each dollar spent directly contributes to improving educational outcomes, enhancing the cost-effectiveness of the intervention.
- Stakeholder Accountability
Allocating budget for program evaluation fosters stakeholder accountability. Stakeholders, including parents, educators, funding bodies, and the students themselves, need to know that the resources devoted to an intervention are being used effectively. Program evaluation provides the transparency needed to build this trust. It provides concrete evidence of an intervention’s successes and acknowledges areas where improvement is needed. It also demonstrates an institution’s commitment to continuous learning and improvement, further enhancing stakeholders’ trust.
- Continuous Improvement
In the dynamic field of education, the need for continuous improvement is paramount. Students’ needs, societal demands, and pedagogical understanding are constantly evolving. As such, educational interventions must be flexible and adaptable. Program evaluation allows for this adaptability. By continuously assessing and analyzing the intervention’s impact, institutions can identify trends and changes in its effectiveness. This feedback loop enables them to respond to these changes promptly, adjusting the intervention as necessary to ensure it continues to meet its objectives. By factoring in program evaluation from the start, institutions can create a culture of continuous learning and improvement, thereby enhancing the quality of education they provide.
Therefore, just as allocating resources to document and reflect on your journey enriches your travel experience, budgeting for program evaluation is crucial for the successful implementation of educational interventions. There have been calls to increase the federal allocation for evaluation (Balfanz, 2014), but this needs to become standard practice for states and districts as well. An explicit plan for evaluation helps foster evidence-based decision making, enhances cost-effectiveness, promotes stakeholder accountability, and facilitates continuous improvement. Hence, when planning new interventions, educational institutions and policymakers should always budget for program evaluation as part of the cost of doing something new, ensuring the best use of resources and delivering high-quality education for their students.
Balfanz, R. (2014). The power of a penny: Building knowledge to invest in what works in education. Results for America. https://results4america.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/RFAPolicyBrief.pdf