The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has selected a group of research organizations to build and maintain an $18.5 million database, called the What Works Clearinghouse, that will help education decision-makers identify high-quality research on various programs, practices, and products used in teaching.
The five-year contract was awarded to the Campbell Collaboration of Philadelphia and the American Institutes for Research of Washington, D.C., along with their subcontractors, Aspen Systems of Rockville, Md., Caliber Associates of Fairfax, Va., and the Education Quality Institute of Washington, D.C.
The two principal parties have established a joint venture to develop and maintain the clearinghouse. The partnership brings together nationally recognized leaders in the field of education research.
The clearinghouse aims to help fulfill a requirement of the new education reform law, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), that asks educators to use only proven strategies based on sound, scientific research.
“There’s a lot of pressure through the U.S. Department of Education, and there’s a lot of public interest in identifying programs that actually do what they claim to do,” said Rebecca Herman, project director for the clearinghouse and principal research analyst at the American Institutes for Research.
The clearinghouse will contain several searchable online databases, including a registry of programs, products, and practices that claim to improve student achievement; a registry of research that backs up those claims; a registry of effective assessment tools; and a list of researchers that educators can contact if they have a program they need evaluated.
The term “high-quality research” has not yet been defined. Project leaders say they are working to identify the characteristics of high-quality research to create a standard or benchmark against which each piece of research contained in the clearinghouse will be measured.
“The idea is to help people sort out good evidence from evidence that isn’t really that strong,” Herman said.
Together, these five organizations will write critical reviews of existing education research on various topicssuch as the impact of homogenous grouping in the third grade. The project leaders plan to solicit topic nominations from educators, Herman said.
For each piece of research, the clearinghouse will provide a summary, access to the complete document where possible, and a review that identifies the research’s strengths and weaknesses.
“It’s a matter of linking up the question that decision makers have with the best research out there,” said Marty Orland, principal program officer and special assistant to ED’s assistant for research and improvement.
In addition to helping educators find research to back up various education practices, Orland said, another important function of the web site is that it will provide educators with a list of qualified and committed researchers they can contact to initiate a research study of projects happening in their school or district.
“This is ideal for someone who has something they think is high quality, but they don’t know who to go to to evaluate it,” Orland said.
The clearinghouse will be accessible through ED’s web site, but people without internet access can contact the clearinghouse, request research on a particular topic, and have it mailed to them.
Educators contacted by eSchool News said the clearinghouse is a much-needed service, especially considering the demands of NCLB.
“I think the clearinghouse will be very helpful, since the technology grants are mandating that we replicate successful research models in our grant-writing for the … funds,” said Kathy Schrock, administrator for technology at the Nauset Public Schools in Massachusetts.
To help educators in her district, Schrock created a small web page that links to major technology research reports, such as the Milken Family Foundation’s report “The Impact of Education Technology on Student Achievement: What the Most Current Research Has to Say.”
Susan Smith, district technology coordinator for Daviess County Public Schools in Kentucky, said her district’s teachers have been incorporating the latest brain research into their teaching strategies, but because the field is so new, the impact of these new teaching strategies on student achievement hasn’t been tested yet.
“We need to identify proven strategies and verify the validity of the research. With budgets decreasing yearly and the testing stakes so high, we cannot afford to subject our children to a strategy that won’t improve their capacity to learn,” Smith said.
Although the clearinghouse is funded by the government and hosted on a government web page, Orland insisted that the reviews of the research will be independent.
“It is important that the government is not seen and perceived as making these judgments,” Orland said. “The intent and the safeguard of this [initiative] is to ensure against the politicism of this process.”
U.S. Department of Education
What Works Clearinghouse
American Institutes for Research
Nauset Public Schools: Technology Research Overview