Book Review                                              Page 53 


When Can You Trust

the Experts?   


How to Tell Good Science from Bad in Education

by Daniel T. Willingham, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, Calif., 2012, 236 pp. with index, $24.95 hardcover

Teachers and administrators are being judged to a greater degree by programs that claim to be “scientifically proven” to raise student outcomes. What if the science behind the programs we are using to judge performance is faulty? In the flood of educational products on the market today, how can school district leaders make the right decision for their students and staff?

In When Can You Trust the Experts? How to Tell Good Science from Bad in Education, author Daniel T. Willingham follows up on his previous bestseller Why Students Don’t Like School to help readers sort through the barrage of programs for sale today to determine what really works.

Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, offers a four-step process to judge the value of products and their claims. He gives non-scientists the tools and knowledge to wade into the research and draw conclusions that can lead to better choices. This book is not designed to turn readers into sophisticated research experts, but rather to lessen the need for expertise to draw accurate conclusions.

Willingham is knowledgeable about the scientific process and how decisions in schooling are made. As thorough as the author is, the science in When Can You Trust the Experts? can sometimes overwhelm the message. While substantiating his process, the author goes into excruciating detail regarding the math and science behind effective decision making. While he is an effective story teller, I sometimes found myself tempted to skip pages that seemed redundant. However, I came away better informed by the time spent understanding the science behind product selection.

This book is intended for teachers, parents, policymakers and administrators. Armed with better knowledge of his particular four-step solution, school leaders can ask tougher questions, think more logically about why an intervention might be appropriate and ultimately make better-informed decisions.

Reviewed by Jeff Smith, superintendent, Balsz School District, Phoenix, Ariz.


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