Federal

Ed. Dept. Picks Groups To Develop Database Of Effective Practices

By Debra Viadero — September 04, 2002 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

As part of its campaign to make education an evidence-based endeavor, the Department of Education has awarded an $18.5 million contract to a group of researchers and education organizations to build a national clearinghouse on “what works” in schools.

When it’s up and running over the next year or two, federal officials say, the What Works computer database will give educators and the public the lowdown on the scientific research undergirding a wide range of programs, tests, practices, and policies.

“It’s extremely important if education is going to move toward an evidence- based practice to have a central source in education for what evidence can be trusted,” said Grover “Russ” Whitehurst, the assistant secretary for educational research and improvement.

“Now, everybody that has a product in education says the product is research-based, and people have no way of knowing whether that’s true,” added Mr. Whitehurst, whose office is overseeing the new effort.

The launch of the clearinghouse comes as educational administrators are gearing up to comply with the new requirements in the “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001, an overhaul of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The law requires states and districts to use only those programs and practices that can be backed up by “scientifically based” research—a tough task for educators who have neither the time nor the expertise to pore over the research literature on all the programs they encounter.

To develop and manage the clearinghouse, the department last month chose two groups that have already tried their hand at synthesizing social science studies: the Campbell Collaboration, a fledgling international research group based at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and the American Institutes for Research, or AIR, a Washington-based think tank.

Led by Robert F. Boruch, an education and statistics professor at the university, the Campbell group was formed three years ago for the sole purpose of gathering experimental studies from around the world on social science interventions, systematically reviewing them, and distilling nuggets of truth that policymakers and practitioners can use. (“Research: Focusing In on Teachers,” April 3, 2002.)

AIR gained national attention in 1999 for its Consumer Reports-style ratings on the research underlying popular programs.

Three other organizations—Aspen Systems of Rockville, Md.; Caliber Associates of Fairfax, Va.; and the Education Quality Institute, based in Washington—are assisting in the five-year contract.

What Studies Count?

The clearinghouse will eventually contain five databases that educators and the general public can access at the touch of a keyboard. The databases will house: potentially replicable programs, products, and practices for schools; lists of the evaluation studies linked to those interventions; research reviews of educational approaches and policies; analyses of testing programs; and names of evaluators willing to review educational interventions.

In addition, department officials say, the clearinghouse will be able to produce as many as five “fast track” reviews a year that are aimed at getting policymakers quick answers to pressing educational questions.

A still-to-be-answered question for the project is how to determine which studies to include in its reviews. While some experts argue for using only those that employ randomized field trials and other experimentally based methods, others want to cast the net wider to include more descriptive kinds of studies.

Although Mr. Whitehurst expects the clearinghouse to eventually settle on criteria emphasizing experimental approaches, he said the final standards would be determined by an outside panel of 10 research experts.

That issue is critical in education because good evaluations are rare and pure scientific experiments are even rarer. When AIR reviewed reform programs three years ago, it turned up only three with strong research bases.

Nonetheless, Rebecca S. Herman, who led the earlier study and is heading AIR’s part in the new clearinghouse, said she expects the pickings to be better this time around.

“The last couple of years, there’s been a lot of interest in what is high-quality research,” she said, “and I think the field has moved forward a little bit.”

Establishing the clearinghouse is also a politically delicate venture for the department because the federal agency is barred by law from recommending specific curricula. Some previous attempts to highlight promising educational programs, in fact, have run into heated controversy.

By relying on hard science, however, Mr. Whitehurst says the clearinghouse can avoid such pitfalls. “It’s not in the end a judgmental process, though, of course, humans will be involved,” he said.

The proof will be in the clearinghouse’s products, the first of which are expected to go online within a year.

“It’s going to take time to assure that we’ve got these standards well articulated,” Mr. Boruch of the Campbell Collaboration said, “and that they are made transparent, and that people have an opportunity to comment on them.”


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Evaluating Equity to Drive District-Wide Action this School Year
Educational leaders are charged with ensuring all students receive equitable access to a high-quality education. Yet equity is more than an action. It is a lens through which we continuously review instructional practices and student
Content provided by BetterLesson
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attendance Awareness Month: The Research Behind Effective Interventions
More than a year has passed since American schools were abruptly closed to halt the spread of COVID-19. Many children have been out of regular school for most, or even all, of that time. Some
Content provided by AllHere

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal New Federal Team to Work on Puerto Rico School Improvement, Oversight
The Puerto Rico Education Sustainability Team will focus on creating better learning environments and improving financial management.
3 min read
Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visits the Emilio Delgado School in Corozal on June 30, 2021 during a visit to Puerto Rico.
Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visits the Emilio Delgado School in Corozal on June 30, 2021 during a visit to Puerto Rico.
Teresa Canino Rivera/GDA via AP
Federal Pandemic Tests Limits of Cardona's Collaborative Approach as Education Secretary
He's sought the image of a veteran educator among former peers, but COVID has forced him to take a tough stance toward some state leaders.
10 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter speak to Mia Arias, 10, during their visit to P.S. 5 Port Morris, a Bronx elementary school, Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021 in New York.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter speak to Mia Arias, 10, during a visit to P.S. 5 Port Morris, a Bronx elementary school, last month.
Brittainy Newman/AP
Federal White House Launches Hispanic Education Initiative Led by Miguel Cardona
President Joe Biden said his administration intends to address the "systemic causes" of educational disparities faced by Hispanic students.
2 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona writes down and draws positive affirmations on poster board with students during his visit to P.S. 5 Port Morris, a Bronx elementary school, Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021 in New York.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visits students in New York City at P.S. 5 Port Morris, a Bronx elementary school in the Bronx last month.
Brittainy Newman/AP
Federal Feds Add Florida to List of States Under Investigation Over Restrictions on Mask Mandates
The Education Department told the state Sept. 10 it will probe whether its mask rule is violating the rights of students with disabilities.
3 min read
Surrounded by lawmakers, Florida Gov.Ron DeSantis speaks at the end of a legislative session on April 30, 2021, in Tallahassee, Fla.
Surrounded by lawmakers, Florida Gov.Ron DeSantis speaks at the end of a legislative session on April 30, 2021, in Tallahassee, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee/AP