PROVEN METHODS
Questions and Answers on
No Child Left Behind

Doing What Works
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  1. There are a lot of education fads. Does No Child Left Behind do anything to prevent bad or untested programs from being used in the classroom?
  2. What is scientifically based research?
  3. How can parents find out about scientifically based research that applies to federal education programs, aside from the research on reading?

1. There are a lot of education fads. Does No Child Left Behind do anything to prevent bad or untested programs from being used in the classroom?

For too many years, too many schools have experimented with lessons and materials that have proven to be ineffective--at the expense of their students. Under No Child Left Behind, federal support is targeted to those educational programs that have been demonstrated to be effective through rigorous scientific research. Reading First is such a program. Programs and practices grounded in scientifically based research are not fads or untested ideas; they have proven track records of success. By funding such programs, No Child Left Behind encourages their use, as opposed to the use of untried programs that may later turn out to be fads. Furthermore, No Child Left Behind's accountability requirements bring real consequences to those schools that continually fail to improve student achievement as a result of using programs and practices for which there is no evidence of success. Such schools would be identified as needing improvement and required to make changes as outlined in the section on Accountability, including using education programs that are grounded in scientifically based research.

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2. What is scientifically based research?

To say that an instructional program or practice is grounded in scientifically based research means there is reliable evidence that the program or practice works. For example, to obtain reliable evidence about a reading strategy or instructional practice, an experimental study may be done that involves using an experimental/control group design to see if the method is effective in teaching children to read.

No Child Left Behind sets forth rigorous requirements to ensure that research is scientifically based. It moves the testing of educational practices toward the medical model used by scientists to assess the effectiveness of medications, therapies and the like. Studies that test random samples of the population and that involve a control group are scientifically controlled. To gain scientifically based research about a particular educational program or practice, it must be the subject of such a study. Going back to the example of reading: No Child Left Behind requires that Reading First support those programs that teach children five skills (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension). These skills have been shown to be critical to early reading success through years of scientifically based research on the practice of reading instruction. In April 2000, these research findings were reported in the congressionally mandated National Reading Panel report mentioned earlier; they have now been written into the new law.

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3. How can parents find out about scientifically based research that applies to federal education programs, aside from the research on reading?

In 2002, the Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences (IES) established the What Works Clearinghouse to provide a central, independent and trusted source of scientific evidence on what works in education for parents, educators, policymakers and anyone else who is interested. All of the research collected and conducted by the clearinghouse follows the same high scientific standards as those used for reading research and will be available via the Internet from the clearinghouse or through the Department's Web site. (See Appendix A: Where to Go for More Information). Parents may be able to use this information to find out about program and curricula selection at their child's school. The seven topics chosen for systematic review in the first year of the What Works Clearinghouse's operation reflect a wide range of our nation's most pressing education issues. They are:

  • Interventions for Beginning Reading;
  • Curriculum-based Interventions for Increasing K-12 Math Achievement;
  • High School Dropout Prevention;
  • Peer-Assisted Learning in Elementary Schools: Reading, Mathematics and Science Gains;
  • Programs for Increasing Adult Literacy;
  • Interventions to Reduce Delinquent, Disorderly and Violent Behavior, in and out of School; and
  • Interventions for Elementary English Language Learners: Increasing English Language Acquisition and Academic Achievement.

Over time, as the clearinghouse begins to produce its reports on these issues, parents will be able to ask their principal, teachers and school board members about the extent to which they select programs and curricula that the research has determined to be effective. Under No Child Left Behind, educators are expected to consider the results of relevant scientifically based research--whenever such information is available--before making instructional decisions.

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Last Modified: 02/27/2014