In connection with the Omnibus Appropriations Act, 2009, GAO was required to study the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC), a federal source of evidence about effective education practices. Operating through a 5-year contract awarded by the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences (IES), the WWC reviews education research and disseminates its findings. GAO examined: (1) the extent to which the WWC review process meets accepted standards for research evaluation and how the WWC has responded to recommendations and criticism, (2) how WWC output and costs have changed over time and how its performance is measured, and (3) how WWC products are disseminated and how useful educators find them to be. To conduct its work, GAO reviewed WWC-related documents, analyzed cost and performance data, surveyed all states and a nationally representative sample of school districts, and interviewed IES officials, WWC contractors, researchers, and others.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Department of Education||To consistently release WWC products in a timely manner, the Secretary of Education should direct IES to develop and implement strategies that help avoid future backlogs and ensure that IES's review and approval processes keep pace with increased contractor production. Strategies could include shifting IES resources to ensure sufficient staff time for managing the peer review process and streamlining its approval processes.|
|Department of Education||To better track the costs and usefulness of the WWC, the Secretary of Education should direct IES to incorporate findings from its cost studies to develop performance measures related to costs, such as identifying a range of acceptable costs per product and using that information to monitor contractor spending.|
|Department of Education||To better track the costs and usefulness of the WWC, the Secretary of Education should direct IES to develop performance measures related to product usefulness and periodically assess whether WWC products are meeting the needs of target audiences by gathering information on product usefulness in the proposed survey or through other means.|
|Department of Education||To reach more members of the target audience, the Secretary of Education should direct IES to assess and improve its dissemination efforts to promote greater awareness and use of the WWC, for example, by developing a way to inform school districts of new products or encouraging educator professional development programs to focus on research-based practices such as those discussed in practice guides.|