Synopses & Reviews
Praise for When Can You Trust the Experts?
"For decades our nation's debates on education have obsessed over a small number of politicized hot buttons—charter schools, vouchers, class size, teachers' unions—while chasing expensive fads of dubious value. What's missing is evidence on what works and what doesn't. At last we have a place to go: Dan Willingham's indispensable guide to fact and fiction in educational methods. Read it and buy copies for your children's teachers, principals, and school board members."
—Steven Pinker, Harvard College Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author, The Language Instinct and How the Mind Works
"Daniel Willingham tackles one of the most difficult—but least discussed—problems for educators: how to sort through the barrage of programs for sale and figure out what really works. Unlike other experts who try to persuade teachers to simply adopt their views, Willingham gives nonscientists the tools and knowledge they need to wade into the research and draw their own conclusions."
—Randi Weingarten, president, American Federation of Teachers
"If Dan Willingham had written this book fifty years ago, American education would have been spared innumerable snake-oil peddlers, unkeepable promises, deceptive claims, and false panaceas along the path to better schools and greater learning. But he's delivered a marvelous guide for future excursions along that twisting path."
—Chester E. Finn, Jr., president, Thomas B. Fordham Institute
"A distinguished scientist gets down to brass tacks in explaining how to judge the scientific claims invariably offered to support educational programs. This lively, readable book should be in the hands of every teacher, administrator, and policymaker."
—E. D. Hirsch, author, What Your Kindergartner Needs to Know and What Your First Grader Needs to Know
"Willingham's When Can You Trust the Experts? provides teachers with an in-depth guide on how to parse the helpful from the abhorrent. With the plethora of education research today, teachers finally have a book that asks us to challenge the validity of current education products through a simplified scientific approach. Unlike other education research books, however, Willingham prefers to spark conversation and invite educators in."
—Jose Vilson, middle school math instructor, New York City Schools
"Parents increasingly come face-to-face with important educational decisions that they feel ill prepared to make. Whether they are choosing among schools, math programs or early interventions for a learning disability, this book will help them figure out which options are backed by the best science. (Recommended)"—Scientific American
"By my bedtable is Dan Willingham's new book, When Can You Trust the Experts?... This is help we all can use, from one of the most sensible guys around."—John Merrow, The Huffington Post
"A brilliant new book... Willingham presents a 'short cut' to assessing the value of a given idea—a set of four steps that will be useful to anyone sizing up an unfamiliar concept. I’ve read Willingham’s book and I recommend it highly!"—Annie Murphy Paul
Clear, easy principles to spot what's nonsense and what's reliable
Each year, teachers, administrators, and parents face a barrage of new education software, games, workbooks, and professional development programs purporting to be "based on the latest research." While some of these products are rooted in solid science, the research behind many others is grossly exaggerated. This new book, written by a top thought leader, helps everyday teachers, administrators, and family members—who don't have years of statistics courses under their belts—separate the wheat from the chaff and determine which new educational approaches are scientifically supported and worth adopting.
- Author's first book, Why Don't Students Like School?, catapulted him to superstar status in the field of education
- Willingham's work has been hailed as "brilliant analysis" by The Wall Street Journal and "a triumph" by The Washington Post
- Author blogs for The Washington Post and Brittanica.com, and writes a column for American Educator
In this insightful book, thought leader and bestselling author Dan Willingham offers an easy, reliable way to discern which programs are scientifically supported and which are the equivalent of "educational snake oil."
Along with some potentially worthy ideas, the last fifty years have encapsulated a flood of educational quackery and nostrums. The innovation and implementation continues, while teachers, administrators, and policymakers have a hard time separating the wheat from the chaff. What makes this so difficult for individuals in the American educational system? They're on their own. There is no research team to evaluate every new idea. But there is
pressure to effect change through these innovations.
In When Can You Trust the Experts? Daniel Willingham offers a solution for those who must sift through the information overload and discern which of the latest educational models, programs, and approaches are worthy of their attention. Willingham provides a reliable shortcut comprising four steps. For each step he offers an explanation of why the principle works by referring back to the rules for what constitutes good science. Willingham's easy-to-apply process consists of:
- Strip it. Clear away the verbiage and look at the actual claim. What exactly is the claim suggesting a teacher should do, and what outcome is promised?
- Trace it. Who created this idea, and what have others said about it? It's common to believe something because an authority confirms it, and this is often a reasonable thing to do. In education research, however, this can be a weak indicator of truth.
- Analyze it. Why are you being asked to believe the claim is true? What evidence is offered, and how does the claim square with your own experience?
- Should I do it? You're not going to adopt every educational program that is scientifically backed, and it may make sense to adopt one that has not been scientifically evaluated.
When Can You Trust the Experts? offers parents, teachers, administrators, and policymakers the tools they need to ask tougher questions, think more logically about why an intervention might or might not work, and ultimately make more informed decisions.
About the Author
Daniel T. Willingham is professor of psychology at the University of Virginia. His bestselling book, Why Don't Students Like School?, was hailed as "a triumph" by The Washington Post and "brilliant analysis" by The Wall Street Journal; it is recommended by scores of education-related magazines and blogs and is published in ten languages. Willingham writes a regular column called "Ask the Cognitive Scientist" for the American Federation of Teachers' magazine, American Educator.
Table of Contents
About the Author xi
Introduction: What Are You to Believe? 1
PART ONE Why We So Easily Believe Bad Science
CHAPTER 1 Why Smart People Believe Dumb Things 31
CHAPTER 2 Science and Belief: A Nervous Romance 57
CHAPTER 3 What Scientists Call Good Science 81
CHAPTER 4 How to Use Science 107
PART TWO The Shortcut Solution
CHAPTER 5 Step One: Strip It and Flip It 135
CHAPTER 6 Step Two: Trace It 167
CHAPTER 7 Step Three: Analyze It 183
CHAPTER 8 Step Four: Should I Do It? 207
Name Index 237
Subject Index 243