Machinations of What Works Clearinghouse

On December 7, 2007, Jean Stockard wrote the first of a series of communications to What Works Clearinghouse about its unreasonable evaluation of Reading Mastery. WWC had asserted that Reading Mastery had no studies that documented its effectiveness as a “beginning reading” program. Jean listed several Reading Mastery studies that should be used as evidential support. She also pointed out some serious problems with WWC’s acceptance of studies that purportedly provided evidence of effectiveness for Reading Recovery.

On June 25, 2008, Jean sent a more detailed critique to WWC and Mathematica, the organization that operates WWC under a federal contract. This communication was followed by what is best described as hemming and hawing. We became cautiously optimistic when we received a letter from Mathematica indicating that it was very concerned with the allegations Jean had made and was providing a careful appraisal of WWC’s practices. Jean didn’t receive a response that addressed the various issues she had raised until September 8. The response consisted of a detailed account from WWC and a letter from Mathematica stating that it found no irregularities in any WWC practice or judgment. The response from WWC appears as Appendix A of “Machinations of What Works Clearinghouse.” The justifications toggle between sophomoric and casuistic. Some are contradictory.

The response that I wrote was not addressed to WWC or Mathematica. It deals with the issues in the Sept. 8 letter from a logical but less empirical standpoint than Jean’s analysis provides. The basic argument in my paper is that what WWC did could not have occurred by chance and was not the product of applying rigorous standards. Instead the outcome was the product of rubber standards, logically unsound arguments, and apparently considerable confusion.

I consider WWC a very dangerous organization. It is not fulfilling its role of providing the field with honest information about what works, but rather seems bent on finding evidence for programs it would like to believe are effective (like Reading Recovery and Everyday Mathematics).

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