Do Randomized Controlled Trials Meet the ‘Gold Standard’?

A Study of the Usefulness of RCTs in the What Works Clearinghouse

The What Works Clearinghouse, which identifies studies that provide credible and reliable evidence of intervention effectiveness, gives its highest rating of confidence only to randomized controlled trials (RCTs). But is an RCT the best way to provide useful information to consumers about complex interventions like curricula?

In this American Enterprise Institute report, Alan Ginsburg and Carnegie Foundation Senior Fellow Marshall (Mike) Smith analyze 27 RCT mathematics curriculum studies contained in the What Works Clearinghouse, and they find serious threats to the usefulness of all 27. They suggest a more nuanced approach to evaluating curricula that is more timely and takes into consideration the complex context in which curricula are implemented.

Download the Appendix (XLS).