School & District Management

School Improvement Means What Works Clearinghouse Is About to Get a Lot Busier

By Sarah D. Sparks — September 09, 2014 2 min read
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Under new rules for the federal School Improvement Fund, a lot more districts are going to be turning to the What Works Clearinghouse for research on the effectiveness of “whole school reform” programs. And clearinghouse officials say they are ready to welcome the business.

“It’s really exciting; it’s our first foray into formula funding and we’re raring to go,” said Ruth Neild, the associate commissioner for the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, which supervises the federal clearinghouse, told me at the Society for Research in Educational Effectiveness meeting here this weekend.

The U.S. Department of Educationt published draft guidance for a major overhaul of federal school improvement grants on Monday. It included details of a new “whole school reform” option which districts can use. In it, schools could partner with a group or program to develop and implement a “coordinated and comprehensive” plan to improve school leadership, teaching and learning in one or more subjects, social and emotional support for students, and community engagement.

The partnering group’s programs would have to have strong evidence of improving low-performing schools, including at least two studies rated as high-quality experimental or quasi-experimental designs under What Works Clearinghouse standards, which find:

  • a statistically significant improvement in academic achievement or attainment; and
  • no significant and overshadowing declines on academic achievement for student groups in the study or in any other studies reviewed and reported by the clearinghouse.

That’s a heavy lift, as the clearinghouse has notoriously high standards, but Neild said at least three programs, including Investing in Innovation grant winner Success for All, are already likely to make the cut. Neild told me the clearinghouse is setting up a new, bigger database to help conduct faster meta-analyses of studies, and it expects to be able to review and turn around submitted studies in as little as two weeks. Approved studies will be tagged for easy search by districts.

“It’s a really good system and a huge step forward for us in terms of infrastructure,” she said.

Plus, after years of redesigns, search protocols, and changes to make the site more user-friendly, Neild and other clearinghouse officials hope the expected rush of districts looking for improvement evidence will get more school leaders interested in exploring and identifying top education research.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.