How can you know if it’s *really* “research-based?” — from Daniel Willingham




My new book, When Can You Trust the Experts: How to Tell Good Science from Bad in Education is now available. (There’s a link for a free download of Chapter 1 on this page.)

I wrote the book out of frustration with a particular problem: the word “research” has become meaningless in education. Every product is claimed to be research-based. But we all know that can’t be the case. How are teachers and administrators supposed to know which claims are valid?

The second half of the book describes the short cut, which consists of four steps:

  1. Strip it. Clear away the verbiage and look at the actual claim. What exactly is the claim suggesting a teacher or parent should do, and what outcome is promised?
  2. 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. I think people rely heavily on credentials when evaluating education research, but I argue that it’s a weak indicator of truth.
  3. 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?
  4. 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.