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Ed. Dept. Web Site Seeks to Link Research, Practice

By Debra Viadero — November 12, 2007 3 min read
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First, the Department of Education created the What Works Clearinghouse, an online source that educators and policymakers could turn to for the lowdown on what research has to say on the effectiveness of particular educational programs and practices.

Now comes Doing What Works.

Launched by the department Nov. 2, Doing What Works, found online at http://dww.ed.gov, aims to help educators and administrators put into practice research-based educational techniques.

Practitioners can read about the studies undergirding recommended educational strategies; access video, slides, or audio recordings of practitioners using those practices in schools; or see examples of tools for implementing such strategies in their own schools.

Middle Ground

“This online library of resources will build a bridge from research to action,” said Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings in announcing the Web site. “It translates research-based practices into examples of tools that support and improve classroom instruction.” The site also stakes out middle ground in addressing a dilemma the department has long faced: deciding whether to focus on getting research guidance out to practitioners fast or getting it perfect. The What Works Clearinghouse, begun in 2002, embodied the second approach. It set high methodological standards, but few education studies could pass its screens, leading some critics to dub the site the “nothing works” clearinghouse.

From Research to Practice

The new “Doing What Works” site features teaching practices vetted by the Department of Education’s research arm and similar organizations. Content on the site is organized into three areas:

LEARNING WHAT WORKS: Understanding the research base behind the practices.

SEEING HOW IT WORKS: Accessing examples of schools and classrooms engaged in those practices, including videos.

DOING WHAT WORKS: Enabling users to access examples of tools and templates to implement the practices.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education

“We could only put up new topics as quickly as the research is done on effective practices,” Holly Kuzmich, the Education Department’s deputy chief of staff for policy and programs, said of What Works, which now features 78 research reviews. “Unfortunately, in the world of education, there is not as much of that as we need yet.”

Faced with schools struggling to meet their academic-improvement targets under the federal No Child Left Behind law, the department’s office of planning, evaluation, and policy development, at Ms. Spellings’ behest, took the first approach. It began work last year on a database of “promising practices” culled from places with a record of raising student achievement.

But because that approach requires a lower standard of evidence than the clearinghouse sets, at least one department official worried that the agency might be sending “conflicting signals” on its research standards. (“‘One Stop’ Research Shop Seen as Slow to Yield Views That Educators Can Use,” Sept. 27, 2006.)

The $3.5 million Doing What Works initiative replaced the promising-practices project and draws much of its research information from the Institute of Education Sciences, the department’s research arm and the agency that oversees the What Works project.

The new site is “not just about gold-standard evidence,” said James W. Kohlmoos, the president of Knowledge Alliance, a Washington-based trade group for research centers and organizations. “It’s about the best available evidence on a particular topic so you’re not backing off on rigor.”

The site’s first topic area, teaching strategies for English-language learners, adheres to a practice guide—also the first in a series of such publications—that the institute published last year to provide research advice for teachers and administrators. Panels of outside experts set the content for each guide. Future Doing What Works topics may, but won’t necessarily, follow the practice guides.

Doing What Works “does capture more or less what was in our practice guide and provides additional information that would help people use the material,” said Russell Gersten, who led that first panel. He is the executive director of the Instructional Research Group, a nonprofit based in Long Beach, Calif. “Having been involved for awhile in the ‘promising practices’ initiative, which was very loose, this seems a much better way of going about things.”

Division of Roles

The planning and evaluation office also collaborated with the Education Department’s office of elementary and secondary education, the office of English-language acquisition, and private contractors to put together Doing What Works.

“It’s a nice division of roles and responsibilities,” said Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, the IES director.

Forthcoming topic areas, which the department hopes to add in a month or so, include cognition and learning, early-childhood education, high school reform, literacy, mathematics and science, and school restructuring.

A version of this article appeared in the November 14, 2007 edition of Education Week as Ed. Dept. Web Site Seeks to Link Research, Practice

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