University of Rochester

Center Aims to Evaluate Whether Education Reforms Deliver on Promises to Improve America's Schools

June 8, 1999

A new research center has been established at the University of Rochester's W. Allen Wallis Institute of Political Economy to build a body of evidence that can guide educational improvements at elementary and secondary schools.

With $1.25 million in foundation grants, the Center for Research in Education Outcomes will support and advance the role of evaluation in educational programs. With access to such analysis, policymakers can develop sound decisions about the education of children.

Eric A. Hanushek, professor of economics, political science and public policy at the University, and director of its Wallis Institute, will be the center's principal investigator. He is known nationally as a staunch advocate of grounding policy decisions in empirical analysis.

"It is surprising how little is learned from the large amount of change and experimentation currently going on in schools," says Hanushek. "Because of the lack of evaluation, schools, parents and policymakers do not know enough to develop an effective program of improvement."

Concerns by Hanushek and others about the difficulties of learning the impact of educational policies and practices without strong evaluation studies led to the creation of the center.

Two foundations, the Packard Humanities Institute and the Smith Richardson Foundation, have committed funds for a 3-year initiative to address the current shortage of evaluation research in education policy. Margaret E. Raymond, senior scientist and associate professor of political science and public policy at the University of Rochester, is the director of the center.

"Other fields of public policy or health care services have a strong history of rigorous examination of programs," according to Raymond. "Citizens have every right to expect publicly funded programs to prove their effectiveness, and for funders to use information about program performance in allocating resources."

The center will actively monitor current and proposed program innovations to select promising initiatives that can be replicated. In programs without an assessment component, the center will broker the development of evaluation designs and assist in identifying researchers and funders.

The Center for Research in Education Outcomes plans to help state and local agencies around the country in evaluating their education programs. Through its Web site at, the center will provide user-friendly guides to create and distribute evaluation data. For districts and other agencies that want independent critiques of evaluation plans and results, the center also will offer expertise.

"Most people have some direct experience with the education system, and most people think that their own personal instincts are a reliable guide to policy. This attitude has caused great harm," says David Packard, president of the Packard Humanities Institute, which supports the project. "I hope that this new center will encourage policymakers to develop the habit of demanding replicable evidence for the actual outcomes of clearly defined educational practices."

An advisory board will offer guidance and oversight for the center, and will assist in the identification of programs that could benefit from the center's involvement.