Case Study: The What Works Clearinghouse: Improving Practice, Research, and Policy

Promoting Evidence-Based Decision Making

The What Works Clearinghouse gives schools the data they need to start using methods that can improve learning . . . something like a mini Food and Drug Administration . . . <by rating> evidence behind various programs and textbooks, using the same sort of criteria researchers use to assess effectiveness of medical treatments.

- The New York Times
Project Facts
  • We put a high priority on generating useful evidence for the field, releasing more than 160 WWC intervention reports, 100 quick reviews, 38 single study reviews, and 11 practice guides from 2007 to 2013.
  • Mathematica redesigned the WWC website and created an easy-to-use, searchable, system to help nontechnical users quickly locate relevant material.
  • To create accessible, timely dissemination of content to WWC stakeholders, particularly teachers, Mathematica revised language for several key products. In partnership with our researchers, our team of communications experts rewrote and redesigned parts of the website, e-blasts, and brochures (traditional and electronic), with an eye toward simplifying and focusing on salient information. 
  • Mathematica deployed timely content packages of WWC’s evidence-based recommendations and findings to meet educators’ real-world needs. Examples such as college application materials during the admissions cycle and back to school tips for teachers after the summer break offer targeted, useful information on student behavior after school holidays.
  • In recent years the WWC has established an active social media presence and deployed multimedia enhancements, including webinars and video.
  • Mathematica continues to produce new engaging and accessible products such as additional practice guide resources and instructional tips, geared toward specific groups of interest.
The Issue

The demand for educational programs with strong evidence of effectiveness has mounted in the past decade. The WWC connects busy decision makers with the best research on effective interventions and practices.

The Approach

In 2007, IES commissioned Mathematica to administer the next generation of the WWC. Mathematica assembled a multi-tiered team of research partners and communications experts to bring wide-ranging depth and expertise to bear on the WWC’s ambitious goals. Using a rigorous, tailored approach, we relaunched the WWC to expand its reach and influence among key stakeholders.

The Impacts

Mathematica transformed the WWC into a widely recognized, robust, and trusted source of information for educators, researchers, and policy makers by doing the following:

  • Refining the existing research standards and developing evidence standards and additional research designs.
  • Enhancing the quantity and quality of WWC reviews. Creating new products in response to practitioners needs.
  • Creating new products in response to practitioners’ needs.
  • Implementing a new level of transparency with the public.
  • Redesigning the WWC website.
  • Ramping up outreach to key audiences.
  • Garnering attention of key influences such as the National Council for Teacher Quality and Grad Nation, which have incorporated WWC recommendations into their public outreach and communications materials, and former U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, who has cited WWC products on his official Twitter feed.
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This case study is for informational purposes only. Mathematica Policy Research, a nonpartisan research firm, provides a full range of research and data collection services, including program evaluation and policy research, survey design  and data collection, research assessment and interpretation, and program performance/data management, to improve public well-being. Its clients include federal and state governments, foundations, and private-sector and international organizations. The employee-owned company, with offices in Princeton, N.J.; Ann Arbor, Mich.; Cambridge, Mass.; Chicago, Ill.; Oakland, Calif.; and Washington, D.C., has conducted some of the most important studies of education, disability, health care, family support, employment, nutrition, and early childhood policies and programs.

About the Project
In 2002, the U.S. Department of Education's (ED) Institute of Education Sciences (IES) established the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) to collect, review, and report on studies of education interventions. The growing focus on evidence-based decision making  increased demand for this type of information.