What Works Clearinghouse Looking at Costs of Implementing Interventions

Associate Editor

A renewed focus on the costs of effective academic interventions is being incorporated at the What Works Clearinghouse, according to Mark Schneider, the director of the Institute of Education Sciences.

The IES oversees the clearinghouse, which invites school administrators, educators, policymakers and the public to “find what works based on the evidence.” Established in 2002, the repository collects, reviews and reports on scientific studies that many consider to be the “gold standard” about what works in education to improve student outcomes.

But while searching for what is effective in boosting student achievement among rigorous research studies, it can be difficult if not impossible to find how much it costs to use the products or techniques found to be effective, Schneider said in a phone interview.

In September, the agency’s staff will be updating its previous evaluations to include information about the expense involved in implementing specific educational programs, practices or products, according to Schneider. “We’re trying to retrospectively dig up this information as much as possible,” he said, noting that academic journals have not required it and neither has the IES itself in old funding opportunities.

As a result, the agency is trying to “scour whatever’s out there to figure it out,” he said.

For future research, the agency is placing an emphasis on requiring evaluations to include this cost-benefit analysis—not just a general assessment of costs, as my colleague Sarah Sparks reported in an exclusive interview with Schneider recently.

The importance of this effort is a flashpoint for Schneider.

“To tell someone this is an effective treatment, but not tell them how much it costs, it’s like saying, ‘Go to the moon,’ without acknowledging how much that might cost,” he said.

In a message on the site about changes in the works at the clearinghouse, Schneider had this to say:

“Two interventions with the same outcomes but different costs should be viewed differently by education administrators who must make spending decisions within budget constraints. IES has been paying more attention to cost in the last few years, and we will continue to sharpen that focus in both the WWC and other IES work, including our grants.”

In his interview with me, Schneider said that all funding opportunities that are being released next year “will require a cost-effectiveness analysis, too.” When a grant applicant “can’t use our money without a plan to report that kind of information—as time goes by, we will have more and more information about cost,” he predicted.

Meanwhile, “How much does it cost to implement an intervention?” is a question on the FAQ section of the What Works Clearinghouse website. It is answered this way:

“The cost of an intervention depends on many factors, including the specific context and the intensity of implementation. If a study reviewed by the WWC presents information about the costs of implementation or that information is readily available from the intervention’s publisher, the WWC will try to include cost information in WWC intervention reports or single study reports. Although this information is provided for your consideration, for branded interventions you are encouraged to contact the publisher to learn about current costs.”

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