Federal

U.S. Switches Contractors for ‘What Works’ Research Site

By Debra Viadero — July 12, 2007 | Corrected: February 22, 2019 3 min read

Corrected: This story originally misidentified Analytica, one of Mathematica’s partners in the What Works Clearinghouse contract.

The U.S. Department of Education has awarded a $50.3 million contract to Mathematica Policy Research Inc. to operate its What Works Clearinghouse for the next five years and make it more nimble and relevant for practitioners and policymakers.

The Education Department’s decision shifts the project from the American Institutes of Research, the Washington-based research group that launched the clearinghouse and has run it for the past five years.

But Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, the director of the department’s Institute of Education Sciences, which oversees the clearinghouse, said the change of management, announced July 11, does not reflect dissatisfaction with the job that the AIR has done.

“That decision was made by the contracts office,” he said, “and we’re happy with it.”

The IES created the clearinghouse in 2002 to serve as an online source for independent reviews of research on “what works” in education. But the project got off to a rocky start.

The clearinghouse’s first reviews were slow in coming, and often discouraging, prompting critics to label the initial $24.4 million effort the “nothing works” clearinghouse. The pace of reviews has been stepped up, however, over the past year, and the Web site now lists 74 reviews of research on reading instruction, dropout prevention, teaching English-language learners, and other topics.

Whether the initially paltry offerings reflected the clearinghouse’s high standards or a lack of high-quality research in the field was much debated question among critics.

“I don’t know if it matters so much who the contractor is,” said James W. Kohlmoos, the president of the Knowledge Alliance, a Washington-based group that lists the AIR as one of its members. “It’s more of a question of whether the department can manage the complexity of this task.

“This has been much more difficult,” he said, “than maybe it had at first appeared.”

The Institute of Education Sciences signaled its intention to make a midcourse correction in the project in December when it published bid specifications for the new contract that called for conducting some quick-turnaround projects, expanding the range of research designs that qualify as sound evidence, and introducing practical guides and other products that educators and decisionmakers in the trenches might see as useful. (“‘Guidelines for ‘What Works’ Contract Signal Shifts,” Jan. 24, 2007.)

“My own personal view is that it’s a little too wonky at the moment,” Mr. Whitehurst said of the clearinghouse. “Because a foundation has already been laid, though, I expect the timeline will be shortened and more products will be coming out on a regular basis.”

Contract Grows

The amount of the contract more than doubled this time around, Mr. Whitehurst added, and part of the increase will underwrite more reviews of research on special education.

That subject has gone largely unaddressed until now because clearinghouse guidelines put a high value on large, randomized studies, which are harder to do in special education because some disabilities affect only small numbers of students.

“You could ask anybody involved, and they would all say it’s been a bigger and more complex project than originally anticipated,” said Rebecca S. Herman, the project director who oversaw the clearinghouse for the AIR. “But I think it was a good project, and I’m looking forward to what happens next.”

Her organization and Mathematica, an employee-owned research group based in Princeton, N.J., were two of just three bidders for the clearinghouse.

At Mathematica, the clearinghouse will be directed by Mark Dynarski, who is a senior fellow and an associate director of research there.

Mathematica’s partners in the clearinghouse venture include 11 other research or public-policy groups, a communications firm, and two universities.

Among them are: Analytica, of Phoenixville, Pa.; Chesapeake Research Associates of Annapolis, Md.; and the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy and CommunicationWorks, both based in Washington.

The remaining partners are: Empirical Education Inc. of Palo Alto, Calif.; Human Resources Research Organization of Alexandria, Va.; ICF Caliber Inc. of Fairfax, Va.; Optimal Solutions Group, based in Hyattsville, Md.; RAND Corp. of Santa Monica, Calif.; RG Research Group of Signal Hill, Calif.; SRI International, based in Menlo Park, Calif.; Twin Peaks Partners of Longmont, Colo.; the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville; and the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the July 18, 2007 edition of Education Week

Events

Jobs The EdWeek Top School Jobs Virtual Career Fair
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
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
Curriculum Webinar
How to Power Your Curriculum With Digital Books
Register for this can’t miss session looking at best practices for utilizing digital books to support their curriculum.
Content provided by OverDrive
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
Embracing Student Engagement: The Pathway to Post-Pandemic Learning
As schools emerge from remote learning, educators are understandably worried about content and skills that students would otherwise have learned under normal circumstances. This raises the very real possibility that children will face endless hours
Content provided by Newsela

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 LGBTQ Students Are Protected by Federal Anti-Discrimination Law, Education Dept. Says
Schools violate Title IX when they discriminate against students based on sexual orientation or gender identity, the agency said Wednesday.
4 min read
Demonstrators gather on the step of the Montana State Capitol on March 15, 2021 protesting anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in Helena, Mont. The Montana Senate Judiciary Committee voted March 18 to advance two bills targeting transgender youth despite overwhelming testimony opposing the measures. The measures would ban gender affirming surgeries for transgender minors and ban transgender athletes from participating in school and college sports. Both bills have already passed the Montana House. They head next to votes by the GOP-controlled Montana Senate.
Demonstrators gather on the steps of the Montana State Capitol in March to protest bills on transgender students' ability to play on single-sex sports teams.
Thom Bridge/Independent Record via AP
Federal Republicans Want Federal Funding Cuts to Schools Using '1619 Project'—But There's a Twist
A bill from U.S. Sens. Tom Cotton, Mitch McConnell, and others targets schools using lessons based on the New York Times Magazine series.
4 min read
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on voting rights on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 20, 2021.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on voting rights on Capitol Hill.
Evelyn Hockstein/AP
Federal What's at Stake in a Review of Federal Sex Discrimination Protections for Students
The Biden administration's review of Title IX may prompt new guidance on how schools deal with sexual harassment and protect LGBTQ students.
10 min read
Image of gender symbols drawn in chalk.
joxxxxjo/iStock/Getty
Federal Opinion Education Outlets Owe Readers More Than the Narratives They Want to Hear
It's vital that serious news organizations challenge runaway narratives and help readers avoid going down ideological rabbit holes.
4 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty