What Works: Can We Say?

A man stands atop a cliff, arms to the sky in a gesture of success.

Resources updated, April 2013
A legacy resource from NICHCY

What works? What Works. We hear those words a lot these days, sometimes as a statement, sometimes as a question. Millions of dollars have been spent trying to determine what’s effective in…you name it—teaching children, teaching children with disabilities, teaching math and every other subject in school, hiring teachers and keeping them, administering sound educational programs, keeping our children from dropping out of school, graduating them with solid skills…and on and on.

So–what have we found out? What can we say after all the research we’ve conducted, all the journals that tell what’s been discovered, all the experience we combine? Do we know what’s effective, what works in building educational systems and practices that will serve our children? This Research Basics page takes a look.

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First Toe in the Water

What exactly IS “scientifically based research?”
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) calls for the use of “scientifically based research” as the foundation for many education programs and for classroom instruction. Leading experts in the fields of education and science came together at a seminar hosted by the Department of Education and discussed the meaning of scientifically based research and its status across various disciplines. Find out what they said in these transcripts, available online at:

A practitioner’s guide to scientifically based research.
From the Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement.

What works in education?
The WWC—the What Works Clearinghouse—has been established to answer that very question. Funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, the WWC is expected to serve as a central source of scientific evidence of what works in education. They are starting off their investigations by focusing on seven topics of high interest (for example, interventions for beginning reading). Read all about the WWC and follow its findings as they emerge, at:

Doing what works.
Doing What Works is the name of another ED-funded center whose mission is to translate research-based practices into practical tools to improve classroom instruction. Main areas of emphasis at the moment are: quality teaching, data-driven improvement, early childhood, literacy, math and science, dropout prevention, and behavior challenges in elementary school classrooms.

Best Evidence Encyclopedia.
What works in education? The Best Evidence Encyclopedia (BEE) presents reliable, unbiased reviews of research-proven educational programs in math, reading, comprehensive school reform, and early childhood.

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Improving School Systems

Are you an administrator, school leader, department chair, superintendent, policy maker—or just a concerned stakeholder? If administrative matters concern you, look here for guidance and published research that may help address issues in your neck of the woods.

Becoming friends with using data to make decisions.
If you haven’t yet embraced data as the basis for making decisions, you may want to pause and take a look at our Special Education Research: Where to Start?, if you haven’t already. Look in particular at the two beginning sections: Research Basics and Applying Research, which will help you make data your fast friend.

Take this online School Leadership Training course.
Thank you, Southern Regional Education Board, for putting your School Leadership Training course online for school teams around the country working toward continuous improvement.

Help for schools.
If you’re in the driver’s seat—or anywhere in the car!—you’ll wanna come here. The School Improvement KnowledgeBase at the link contains information and resources to help you improve your school using a step-by-step, well-designed process and hooking you up to the research base supporting each step.

What works in comprehensive school reform?
Find out at the Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement. The center is no longer active, but its online collection of tools and resources is designed to aid schools as they plan, implement, and sustain schoolwide reform programs.

And does school reform actually improve student achievement?
The link below will take you to Comprehensive School Reform and Student Achievement: A Meta-Analysis (2002), which reviews the research on the achievement effects of the nationally disseminated and externally developed school improvement programs known as “whole-school” or “comprehensive” reforms.

Research focused on middle schools.
The National Middle School Association has an entire section of its website devoted to the research base for educating young adolescents. This includes a series of summaries that share research on focused topics in middle level education, each with annotated references and recommended resources for you to continue your investigation.

More on making the middle grades work.
Visit the Southern Regional Education Board for many interesting publications on the subject.

Making high schools work.
High Schools That Work is the nation’s largest school improvement initiative for high school leaders and teachers.

More on high schools.
Visit the National High School Center to connect with reviews of the research and practical how-to improvement guides based on that research.  This includes a section of the website on addressing needs of students with disabilities.

Preventing students from dropping out of school.
Visit the National Dropout Prevention Center for Students with Disabilities, which has reviewed the literature in this area and which offers extensive research-based tools and guides to keeping our children in school.

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Preparing & Keeping Good Teachers

What works in teacher preparation?
This 2003 report from the Education Commission of the States reviews the body of research on teacher preparation to answer eight questions about teacher preparation that are of particular importance to policy and education leaders. Read Eight Questions on Teacher Preparation: What Does the Research Say?

The research on teacher preparation.
NCATE is the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, so you can imagine that it would have a lot to say about what goes into creating an effective teacher. Connect with the research!

What works to keep teachers from leaving?
Did you know that 12% of the teaching workforce will not return to teaching next fall? Why do they leave the profession, and what can be done to stem such a high turnover rate? Read all about it in this brief from the Alliance for Excellent Education.

More on teacher recruitment and retention.
“A Review of the Research Literature on Teacher Recruitment and Retention” represents a comprehensive and critical examination of research published since 1980 on the topic of teacher recruitment and retention in the United States.

The importance of mentoring and induction as a “retention” strategy.
Visit NCIPP, the National Center to Inform Policy and Practice in Special Education Professional Development, to learn about the power of mentoring new teachers and having strong, supportive induction policies.

Visit our “What Does the Research Say?” page.
It’s a spin-off resource page in the section on the repository called Teacher Recruitment and Retention.

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Helping Young Children

What works in early childhood education?
Visit the Research and Training Center (RTC) on Early Childhood Development. Its mission is to promote and enhance the healthy development of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers with or at risk for developmental delays or disabilities. The RTC was established to create a bridge between research evidence and early childhood intervention practices.

What works with young children with disabilities?
The Division for Early Childhood (DEC) of the Council for Exceptional Children concerns itself directly with the question of what works with young children who have special needs, birth through age eight. Visit the site above and learn more about DEC’s publications, which will put you in touch with evidence-based practices and strategies in early intervention and early childhood special education.

Inclusion for young children with disabilities?
What does the research tell us about early childhood inclusion? Visit this page of the ECTA Center and choose from an array of resources.

Addressing challenging behavior.
Visit the TACSEI, the Technical Assistance Center on Social Emotional Intervention for Young Children. TACSEI takes the research that shows which practices improve the social-emotional outcomes for young children with, or at risk for, delays or disabilities and creates free products and resources to help decision makers, caregivers, and service providers apply these best practices in the work they do every day.

What’s important when working with families who are culturally or linguistically diverse?
The Early Childhood Research Institute on Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) can tell you.

How do we measure children’s progress?
The Early Childhood Research Institute on Measuring Growth and Development (ECRI-MGD) was launched in October, 1996. Its mission is to produce a comprehensive system for measuring the skills and needs of individual children with disabilities from birth to eight years of age.

More on measuring children’s progress and outcomes.
Among other things, the Early Childhood Outcomes Center (ECO) is researching issues related to the development and implementation of outcome measures that states can use to demonstrating results for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers with disabilities and their families. If you’re concerned with how to measure outcomes and demonstrate accountability for these young ones, you’ll want to visit ECO and see their work.

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Providing Effective School Services

Maybe start with a sidetrip—to other resources in the CPIR’s repository.
When it comes to making use of research when planning or delivering certain school services, or knowing what’s effective, you may find separate CPIR resource pages helpful. What’s your subject, issue, or concern? If it’s listed below, click on the link and connect with a wealth of already organized info on that subject.

Behavior issues, including where to find behavior expertise; what research has to tell us about effective use of behavior assessment, plans, and positive supports; what’s effective in improving student behavior at school; and how to stop bullying.

Instruction for students with disabilities–find out what’s effective for students with disabilities in the general ed classroom, how to address the needs of students with specific disabilities like LD or AD/HD…and more.

Learning and the brain–what research is finding about how we learn and what it means for how we educate.

Research on specific disabilities–This is a growing collection of info on what light research (both medical and educational) is shedding on disabilities such as LD, autism, AD/HD, and others.

Summing up the best available research on a specific question.
The Campbell Collaboration is an international research network that prepares and disseminates high-quality systematic reviews of social science evidence in three interlinked fields: education, crime and justice, and social welfare. Visit C2’s library of systematic reviews, at:

Handbook of Research on Teaching (4th Edition).
From the American Educational Research Association, 2001. Read a description of the book and order online at:

Find effective teaching techniques for different disabilities.
Students studying special education at the University of Virginia Curry School of Education and East Tennessee State University College of Education have read and summarized scores of research articles about methods for teaching specific skills to individuals with disabilities. Take advantage of their work in the areas of: reading, spelling, handwriting, writing, math, content instruction, behavioral challenges, language skills, social skills, vocational skills, and functional skills.

What is all the buzz about universal design for learning?
Learn all about National Center on Universal Design for Learning , which develops technology-based educational resources and strategies based on the principles of UDL.

Scientific research in math?
The link below will take you to Dr. Russell Gersten’s summary of the current state of affairs in math education research.

All things paraprofessional.
If the qualifications, training, or supervision of paraprofessionals fall within your areas of concern or responsibility, you may want to visit the  National Resource Center for Paraprofessionals (NRCP). The link below lands you on the Paraprofessional Resources page, which you can connect with a paraeducator bibliography and Employment and Preparation of Paraeducators, The State of the Art- 2003.

What do we know about youngsters’ mental health and psychosocial problems?
The Center for Mental Health in Schools at UCLA takes a deeper look at what data exist on young people’s mental health and what conclusions we can draw (or not). Read CMHS’s brief online at:

What works in school psychology?
WCER is the Wisconsin Center for Education Research. It offers access to a range of research documents and papers. The one found at the link below is part of WCER’s Working Paper series and presents an overview of issues related to evidence-based practice and the role that the school psychology profession can play in developing and disseminating evidence-based interventions (EBIs).

Which social and emotional learning programs are the most effective?
The 2013 CASEL Guide identifies well-designed, evidence-based social and emotional learning programs with potential for broad dissemination to schools across the United States. Produced by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. 

What works in preventing challenging behaviors?
Find out by visiting the Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.

More on what works in preventing challenging behaviors.
The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning offers What Works Briefs, which summarize effective practices for supporting children’s social-emotional development and preventing challenging behaviors.

Training modules are also available in English and in Spanish on: classroom preventive practices, social-emotional teaching strategies, individualized intensive interventions (determining the meaning of challenging behavior and developing a behavior suport plan), and leadership strategies. The training modules are available online at:

What works with at-risk students?
Find out in McREL’s (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning) Noteworthy Perspectives called Classroom Strategies for Helping At-Risk Students. Six strategies are discussed: whole class instruction, cognitively oriented instruction, small-group instruction, tutoring, peer tutoring, and computer-based instruction.

What makes a mentoring program work?
Visit MENTOR to connect with the latest research on mentoring theory, practice and programs. (You can also find what your State Mentoring Partnership is up to and how to get involved.)

Research on effective after-school programs.
The National Center for Quality Afterschool offers a line of Research Briefs and other resources.

Principal’s guide to effective after-school programs.

Scientific research related to schools and education.
Visit the Child Development Center, which organizes and briefly describes current research related to schools and education according to the following groupings: development, psychology, learning, parenting, health/safety, and kids/media.

What works in transition to adulthood?
Drop in at the National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center and cruise the Evidence-Based Practices section of its website. Well, all of the site, really.

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You can use this page in combination with the other offerings in our collection of pages designed to make sense of research. At the moment, we offer these basic introductions:

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