Education Letter to the Editor

‘What Works’ Director Says Critical Letter Is Incorrect

March 18, 2008 1 min read
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To the Editor:

James P. Connell’s Feb. 20, 2008, letter to the editor about the What Works Clearinghouse’s review of research on the First Things First school reform model suggests that the clearinghouse based its conclusions on an incomplete review of the available research evidence. This is incorrect.

For the record, the clearinghouse conducted a literature search to identify research that related to the First Things First model. In November 2007, we shared with the Institute for Research and Reform in Education, which developed the First Things First model and where Mr. Connell serves as president, citations for the five studies that the literature search had identified (including four that were part of one evaluation), and asked the institute to suggest studies that the search may have missed. The institute responded in December with an additional citation, a study by Henry M. Levin that Mr. Connell cites in his letter. The study was a cost-benefit analysis that did not estimate the effectiveness of First Things First, and for this reason it was not added to the review.

The What Works Clearinghouse’s effectiveness ratings are based only on studies that pass its evidence standards. Of the five studies of First Things First, one met these standards. Full citations for these five studies, as well as the specific reasons four of them did not pass the clearinghouse’s evidence standards, are found in our report on First Things First. In the study that did meet the evidence standards, a replication of the First Things First model in Houston, the effects were not statistically significant or large enough to be meaningful.

As Education Week noted in its article that prompted Mr. Connell’s letter (“U.S. Review Finds No Proof That Reform Model Works,” Feb. 6, 2008), more research on First Things First is under way, and the clearinghouse will incorporate new findings of effectiveness when it updates its report on First Things First.

Mark Dynarski


What Works Clearinghouse

Senior Fellow

Mathematica Policy Research Inc.

Princeton, N.J.

A version of this article appeared in the March 19, 2008 edition of Education Week as ‘What Works’ Director Says Critical Letter Is Incorrect


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