NYEC Model Programs are … Pepping Up Youth Employment’s Image: The Sticky Evaluation Problem

Anne Lewis
November 1, 1996

A sharp critic of second-chance programs, which characterize most of the PEPNet models, is W. Norton Grubb, professor of education at the University of California/Berkeley. And he won't let them off the hook.

Citing the "dismal" results documented by evaluations of youth training programs over two decades, he believes that second-chance programs face impossible odds in working with those who probably will not gain stable employment. But he also concedes in a new book, Learning to Work: The Case for Re-integrating Job Training and Education (Russell Sage Publications, NY, 1996) that abandoning second-chance programs "is a distinctly un-American idea."

Interviewed while on a sabbatical in Cambridge, England, Grubb said his vision for youth employment programs is to link them with longer-term programs in community colleges. He describes "bridge programs" typically involving several teachers and a youth worker and often focusing on a particular group, such as Hispanics, to move students back into both academic and vocational coursework.

"These programs look to me to be better than anything I have seen in the job training world," he said. "Most of the job training programs have no idea what good teaching is, and until they figure it out, they will continue to fail. At least some people in community colleges have figured this out."

Grubb does not dismiss entirely anecdotal evidence. "But telling stories about a program's few successes is not qualitative evaluation." Done well, an evaluation should: be conducted by an outside team, find stories about failures as well as successes, evaluate what the program actually is doing ("often a mystery"), and see what's going on in classes ("often ghastly").

Both quantitative and qualitative evaluations take time, Grubb notes, but if all programs want is "bullshit evaluation" where they report only their best stories, then "that's sort of like asking the fox about the chickens."

Grubb's definition of the "new vocationalism" that could help prevent school dropouts is reflected in the school-to-work opportunities programs— school-based learning that integrates academic and vocational subjects; work-based learning of high quality; and connecting activities to make the two consistent. "If we could really put these ideas into place" he says, "rather than just fight over the money as most people are now doing—we could do a lot better."

Lewis, Anne. "NYEC Model Programs are … Pepping Up Youth Employment’s Image: The Sticky Evaluation Problem."Youth Today, November/December 1996, p. 15.

©2000 Youth Today. Reprinted with permission from Youth Today. All rights reserved.