Federal "Doing What Works" Website for Dissemination of Best Education Practices Suspended Abruptly Without Explanation

An important website for helping disseminate best education practices identified by the federal What Whats Clearinghouse has abrubtly suspended without explanation.  The "Doing What Works" website was a companion to the Institute for Educational Sciences' "What Works Clearinghouse" that evaluate educational practices regarding a stringent evaluation model.  While the WWC is very good at evaluating practices (some would argue the point their standards miss many worthy practices), they were not as user-friendly to understand "how" to implement the practices that they deemed worthy.  Doing What Works was a website sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education and developed by the Innovation Studies Program at WestEd in partnership with American Institutes for Research and RMC Research Corporation.

The Department of Education sent the following email to those on the mailing list for the Doing What Works website:

From: “U.S. Department of Education”
Subject: Update on the Doing What Works Website
Date: September 20, 2013 8:29:36 PM EDT
Dear subscriber:  The U.S. Department of Education has suspended operation of the Doing What Works website. We sincerely regret this unfortunate event. You can still acquire many DWW media and materials through other channels. Please email dww@wested.org for specific instructions on how you can gain access to DWW media and materials.  Sincerely, The DWW Team

Key web links for this news:

  1. Report of the website closing by the Washington Post Online  From the author:  "I won’t mention the irony in the fact that department spends millions on school reform that has no proven record of success but ran out of cash for its Doing What Works website."
  2. Link to an archieved copy of the Doing What Works website.  The website has now been erased without even a single web page directing people to other sources.  This "Wayback Machine" archive records every web page ever posted.  They archived so far 240 billion web pages.
  3. Link to official Facebook page for Doing What Works
  4. Link to official Facebook page for Doing What Works
  5. Cosponsor WestED's announcement about suspending Doing What Works

Why is it important to note the demise of the DWW website?

The federal government spends hundreds of millions each year on funding grant programs in the Department of Education and other agencies.  The Government is very effective in spending enormous amounts of money, but lacks a coherent, sophisticated system to disseminate the lessons learned from the money spent.  The What Works Clearinghouse is effective at evaluating educational practices in K-12 education, but ignores postsecondary education.  However, WWC is not focused on providing easily understood and user friendly reports, videos, sample curriculum, and the like to implement the education practices that meet their standards.  Just sending us to "Google" is not an answer for understanding how to implement best education practices.  Last time I used the search words  "best", "education", and "practices" Google identified 274 million web pages.

A simple solution

When the government awards grants to education institutions, they allow them to charge "indirect costs" to the government for the costs to spend the grant money.  The argument is that the institution has to pay for the basic services (utilitis, bookkeeping, laboratories for experiments, etc) to host the project.  The government limits these indirect costs to perhaps eight percent for a grant from the Dept of Education and as high as 40 percent from the scientific agencies.  The government agrees it is part of the cost of doing business and permits the charges.

Why doesn't the government add their own "indirect cost" to grants that go to education institutions?  Hold back one or two percent of the annual appropriation for a grant program and use that to fund a sophisticated best education practices center that provides a user-friendly means to help people implement best education practices.  Why not spends a penny or two on the dollar to help people implement what already has been learned?

An example of this approach is a small pilot project I am involved with.  I lead a team of volunteers who have created a pilot best education practice center focused on college readiness and college success approaches.  It is cosponsored by the University of Minnesota and the Mid-America Association of Educational Program Personnel (MAEOPP), a regional association representing professionals involved with TRiO and GEAR UP programs.  Click on this link for the MAEOPP Cener for Best Education Practices.  If a group of volunteers can create something like this with next to no budget, what could be created if something more sophisticated was funded with that one or two percent hold back  of grant funds from the govenment?