What is the Cost of Adopting Unsupported Programs?

March 3, 2022

Even though there is increasing support for schools adopting programs that have strong empirical support for various reasons, schools continue to adopt programs that have no or limited empirical support. Often an unanswered question is what are the costs for implementing programs with limited or no scientific support when well supported programs are available? The challenge for schools is to adopt programs that will produce the greatest benefits for students and do so in a way that is cost-effective. A cost-benefit analysis is one approach to identifying the costs and benefits of a particular program. Essentially, it a ratio of benefits over costs. A cost-benefit analysis is under-utilized in public education. Recently, Scheibel, Zane, and Zimmerman (2022) applied a cost analysis to adopting programs for children with autism that are unproven or have limited scientific support. Specifically, they evaluated the costs of implementing the Rapid Prompting Method (no empirical support) and Floortime Therapy (emerging effectiveness data), both of which are frequently adopted in programs for children on the autism spectrum. The authors reported that implementing interventions with a limited research base or programs with no evidentiary support, can pose significant costs to schools with varying likelihood of benefit to children. In addition to the direct costs of these programs, there may opportunity costs for failing to implement interventions with stronger empirical support. 

The methods for completing these types of cost analyses are complex; however, there is great value to schools when they employ these cost-benefit methods to improve outcomes for students and achieve a greater return on their investment in effective programs. This study is one example of how these analyses can be conducted. Both researchers and public-school administrators would be well-served if cost-effectiveness analyses were more frequently utilized when evaluating programs.


Scheibel, G., Zane, T. L., & Zimmerman, K. N. (2022). An Economic Evaluation of Emerging and Ineffective Interventions: Examining the Role of Cost When Translating Research into Practice. Exceptional Children, 00144029211073522.