What Reading Program Works

Earlier this week, the What Works Clearinghouse released its analysis on the research base for the Open Court and Reading Mastery programs.  To the surprise of many (or at least many of those who are paying attention to the WWC these days), both programs were found to lack the research umph that WWC and the Institute of Education Sciences demands under the “scientifically based” definition.

EdWeek’s Kathleen Manzo has the full story here — http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2008/08/13/01whatworks.h28.html?tmp=1851512060.

The reports are particularly interesting because most believed Open Court and Reading Mastery were two of the leading programs for which Reading First and SBRR were intended.  Open Court is the program of choice in Los Angeles, for instance, and both programs have been credited with boosting student reading achievement in the classroom.

Critics of RF will use this as yet another “I told you so” moment, that such golden list programs lack the research merit to warrant inclusion.  And while it might make good AERA chatter, there is a much larger issue we should be discussing.

What is the true impact of the What Works Clearinghouse?  Based on these reports, does anyone expect LAUSD to drop its contract with Open Court?  Of course not.  LAUSD has long believed the program has helped students in LA, and they’ll point to their own student achievement numbers to prove it.  Same goes for most of the schools using both Open Court and Reading Mastery.  It is in those schools because administrators, teachers, or both have found it effective with their kids. 

As with much of the federal education reforms of the past decade, WWC is in a time of transition.  Now is the time for the Clearinghouse to figure out what it really wants to be, and what role it is to play in P-12 education.  Is it an evaluator of commercial programs?  Is it an arbiter of scientifically based research?  Is it a Consumer Reports for education?  Or is it a tool to help education decisionmakers make intelligent decisions about instructional practice?

We need to start shifting from an “all or nothing” thinking and start determining how WWC fits into the larger framework.  Otherwise, it could be another story of unfulfilled potential.

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