Federal Clearinghouse’s Methodology Questioned

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To the Editor:

The What Works Clearinghouse’s conclusions regarding the Facing History and Ourselves program ("‘What Works’ Rates Programs' Effectiveness," May 17, 2006) are both flawed and deceptive. Of the eight articles that the clearinghouse claims to have reviewed, five are clearly program descriptions that were never intended to document impact. And the single impact study that was reviewed in detail was seriously mistreated in the What Works analysis.

This impact study—supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, undertaken by Harvard University researchers, and peer-reviewed for publication in the Journal of Moral Education—demonstrated significant gains in a number of areas for Facing History students over a comparison group. The clearinghouse gave this study the highest rating for a quasi-experimental design, and yet it claims that no discernible effects were found. This is because the reviewers aggregated effects across different domains of impact (civic, moral, psychosocial, and intergroup), thus obscuring positive findings within several of these domains. Even when corrected for multiple comparisons, the published study reported significant effects when analyzing the domains of impact separately. The intent of this study was never to aggregate the results, and to do so is misleading.

In its 30-year history, Facing History has received validation and support from thousands of educators, and from leading foundations and the U.S. Department of Education itself. We applaud serious efforts to improve research on educational programs, and are currently involved in a five-year longitudinal study, incorporating an experimental design, of our impact on teachers and students.

As for the What Works Clearinghouse’s report, educators and policymakers will be better served by more credible efforts to assess the evidence of programs. One such report is Marvin C. Berkowitz and Melinda C. Bier’s “What Works in Character Education: A Research-Driven Guide for Educators,” which describes Facing History and 33 other character education programs as having “scientific evidence supporting their effectiveness in promoting character development in students.”

Margot Stern Strom
Executive Director
Facing History and Ourselves
Brookline, Mass.

Vol. 26, Issue 40, Page 29

Published in Print: June 14, 2006, as Federal Clearinghouse’s Methodology Questioned

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