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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I am a homeschool mom and I loved this one
I have homeschooled my kids for years. I have read more books on educational philosophy, psychology, trends, and methods than I care to remember. Most of them are completely useless.

The homeschooling world is absolutely over run by curriculum, programs, methods, gurus, and philosophies. You could spend a lifetime and a fortune sorting it all out. Believe...
Published on September 26, 2012 by Half Fast Farmer

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3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting concepts, semi bland reading
I got this book because it sounded interesting, after all the world seems to be filled with so many experts, who do you listen to?

Daniel Willingham does a great job writing and explaining the process you should go through before jumping on board with any experts theory. For example

Step 1: Strip it. Take away the verbiage and find out what the...
Published on August 21, 2012 by J. Haggard


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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I am a homeschool mom and I loved this one, September 26, 2012
This review is from: When Can You Trust the Experts: How to Tell Good Science from Bad in Education (Hardcover)
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I have homeschooled my kids for years. I have read more books on educational philosophy, psychology, trends, and methods than I care to remember. Most of them are completely useless.

The homeschooling world is absolutely over run by curriculum, programs, methods, gurus, and philosophies. You could spend a lifetime and a fortune sorting it all out. Believe me, a lot of homeschoolers have tried.

This book gives you a clear path through the claims and hyperbole. Even as I strive to teach critical thinking to my kids, I am aware that I need to constantly be working on that myself. This book is a fantastic exercise in applying critical thinking to educational theory.

Not everything in this book translates well to the homeschool world. But enough content does to make this a very worth while read before you get suckered in at the next curriculum fair or homeschool conference.

I would actually very much like the author to write an addendum or revised additions for homeschoolers. We spend more money on books than any other segment of the market. We could use his insight.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not just for teachers, September 17, 2012
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J. Green (Los Angeles, California) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: When Can You Trust the Experts: How to Tell Good Science from Bad in Education (Hardcover)
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This book is specifically aimed at educators (teachers and administrators, but parents, too) who might be considering "educational software, games, workbooks or other programs" which claim to be "based on the latest research." While some of these products may be based on actual research, many are not. But how can you tell? Willingham discusses the history of science and the role it plays in persuading us and appeals to our biases (especially the "confirmation bias" where we look for "evidence" that supports what we already believe and discard what doesn't support it). Ultimately he outlines and explains four steps:

Strip it and Flip it. Strip the claim down to its essentials and promises: "If I do X, then there is a Y percent chance that Z will happen."
Trace it. Should you take statements by "authorities" at face value?
Analyze it. What evidence is offered? Is there any scientific evidence (from reliable studies) that support or refute the claims?
Should you do it? And how will you measure results, or when do you call it quits?

It's a rather straightforward process that can weed out a lot of programs and help you find (and understand) the kind of research for making better-informed decisions. And while it's geared more toward eduation professionals it's also written plainly enough that parents can use the same processes. I picked it up hoping it could apply to other areas where science is touted. Such issues are certainly beyond the scope of this book, but I think Willingham's method is a good place to start and can be applied in more areas than just education. It's not a long book and Willingham's writing style is easy to follow. But the main idea is to get people thinking for themselves and not be misled by emotional appeals or psuedo-science.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Should be rquired reading for principals, school boards and curriculum committees. I do wish it were a bit more concise., September 8, 2012
This review is from: When Can You Trust the Experts: How to Tell Good Science from Bad in Education (Hardcover)
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I wish this were required reading for principals. The No Child Left Behind has left them desperate for anything which will improve student scores. I have a background in science and educational research and have spent many an hour explaining to principals that the newest "fad" in teaching (insert reading method, math program, "brain training" exercises) has no evidence to support effectiveness. They all sound good, and fling about authoritative scientific sounding or alternatively, flowery and romantic statements but lack proof.

Unfortunately, many educational research books delve into all sorts of statistics. Given that many teachers and principals do not have extensive backgrounds in statistics (once had to go in and explain to a principal that students could not "advance to the 100th percentile" from the 99th percentile) these books do little to enlighten.

This books is NOT for educational researchers. This book is for principals, teachers and parents. The author readily admits that his method is a shortcut. Using this method will give the reader a pathway to evaluate the claims of educational products and not simply resort o thinking "well, that sounds good, let's give it a try!" which seems to be the basis for many decision making committees in education.

However, given the lack of time that many parents and teachers have, I wish this book were shorter or came in two versions, the "well developed" version and the "really a shortcut version". Although the explanations of the scientific method and research methods are interesting ( and his beginning a clever way to open your eyes) I worry that the extra length means that some readers will not persevere to the meat of the book, how to evaluate educational claims. I would give it 4.5 stars. but I will round up, as the author does an excellent job explaining to the educated (but not necessarily scientific or mathematical) layman how to strip away the smoke and mirrors, get to the facts and make an informed decision.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Strange Bedfellows: Science and Education, July 8, 2012
This review is from: When Can You Trust the Experts: How to Tell Good Science from Bad in Education (Hardcover)
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When we think "science" and "education," we think of those teachers who taught us how to set the Periodic Table, break beakers, and light fires. What we don't think of are white-coat types holding a magnifying glass to education research. Still, in this day of "research-based" this and "best-practices" that, shouldn't we at least question what that means? Daniel T. Willingham certainly thinks so, and he wrote WHEN CAN YOU TRUST THE EXPERTS? HOW TO TELL GOOD SCIENCE FROM BAD IN EDUCATION in an attempt to rectify that.

As I teach English and not science, I am probably a good test subject for this book. I'm happy to say that not all of it was new. In fact, if you, like me, know a thing or two about persuasion and logical fallacies, you will find some of Willingham's information warmed-up leftovers. He starts the book with a little history -- admittedly my favorite part -- about the Enlightenment, where science was king, and the Romantic Era, where emotions and nature held sway. Turns out, educational sorts are still tapping these roots to impress and persuade us that their particular form of educational-change-for-the-better is superior. Thus, we might see a picture of a scientist in a white coat (usually an avuncular sort with white hair and a clipboard) attached to the pitch. Also, statistics might be used, and the holy words "science" and "research" themselves might be invoked. People trust scientists and research, even more so in the U.S. than in many other countries.

Romantic roots? Think of the word "natural" (also used prolifically in the food business, where it means absolutely nothing). The Romantic movement also sends us our love of "the whole child" and of each learning style being unique and thus worthy of our attention and lesson planning. Yeah. We like that individualistic spirit, too -- and educational salesmen know that. Thus, they use the right buzzwords to sell us.

After explaining how we are easily fooled and how science might save us, Willingham moves on from background information to actions we might take. He advises that we "flip it, trace it, and analyze it." In brief, an example of "flipping it" might be the hamburger that calls itself 85% lean on its packaging. Flip it and you get the much less tantalizing 15% fat which is the same thing but would hurt sales if it appeared on the package in large red letters with exclamation points. "Trace it" teaches you how to sniff a trail, hound dog-like. Who is making this claim and where is his data coming from? Finally, "analyze it" shows you how a scientist would put said data to the test. There's data and there's data, after all.

If you don't know where to begin, you might start with this book, even if it can get a bit dry at times, especially for my right-brained (whoops, bad science!) mind. Still, I know it's good for me, so I carried on. Plus, Willingham was constantly providing tables to summarize key points. This is good science, apparently, especially when English teachers are reading.

Despite the fact that it doesn't really name a lot of names, products, and strategies, I recommend the book for those who are questioning certain educational systems and claims, those who are vetting them, or those who must champion them. Know of what you speak before you endorse or challenge things! As E.D. Hirsch said, in a quote repeated in this book: "The enormous problem faced in basing policy on research is that it is almost impossible to make educational policy that is not based on research. Almost every educational practice that has ever been pursued has been supported with data by somebody. I don't know a single failed policy, ranging from the naturalistic teaching of reading, to the open classroom, to the teaching of abstract set-theory in third-grade math that hasn't been research-based. Experts have advocated almost every conceivable practice short of inflicting permanent bodily harm."

So much for "research." Almost as dependable as that "all natural" you see on so much unhealthy food.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Book We've Needed For a Very Long Time, April 13, 2013
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This review is from: When Can You Trust the Experts: How to Tell Good Science from Bad in Education (Hardcover)
Dan Willngham does great work when it comes to bringing science and education together. His previous book, "Why Students Don't Like School?" is a very accessible and very sensible look at how we teach, why many of the things of we do probably don't work very well, how this effects kids' view of their own schooling, and what science tells us about how we might change things. Now I think he's done us one better by giving us a book that helps us evaluate all the science and pseudo-science we hear about in education.

I think this is significant for two reason: (1) I'm not aware of any book for a non-scientist like me that provides tools I can use every day to evaluate scientific claims about teaching and learning; and (2) Dan is essentially giving us a powerful tool to investigate his own work as a scientist as well. His book, then, not only tells us something about educational research, it tells us something about Dan: that he is truly one of the experts we can trust because he is willing to not only willing to put his own work up for public scrutiny but also to give non-scientists like me the very tool we need to scrutinize his efforts.

I could tell you a ton of things I like about the book. It's full of useful ideas that I have incorporated easily into my own educational practice. But you can read the book and find those things out for yourself.

What I'd really like people to consider is the nature of the person who wrote this book. How many scientist have written books for non-scientists about how to evaluate scientific claims--including their own? I'm sure there are some. But I don't think there are many. And I certainly haven't found one in education that is as thoughtful, as practical, and as fair-minded as this book.

Whether you're a teacher, a principal, a parent, or a policy maker, this book is well worth having on your bookshelf (or in your Kindle if you're out of shelf space like I am). Dan's "Science and Education Blog" is also a great read. Much like his book, it brings to the lay person like me, brief and accessible interpretations of the very latest research on learning--with the same fair-minded and high-integrity approach he has brought to the writing of "When Can You Trust the Experts?"
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How to Read Educational Research, July 29, 2012
This review is from: When Can You Trust the Experts: How to Tell Good Science from Bad in Education (Hardcover)
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Daniel Willingham is professor of psychology at the University of Virginia. He is a regular contributor to the magazine of the American Federation of Teachers, the American Educator. As such, he is uniquely qualified to write on the science of education.

Much of what passes for "research" in education is, in reality, advocacy. There are millions to be made by giving seminars on whatever "new" idea happens to appeal to teachers, who are always eager to learn promising approaches to improving learning by their students.

Willingham opens his book with a catchy treatise on the Golden Ratio, which is equal to 1.618... Given a series of rectangles of varying dimensions, the rectangle whose sides are in a proportion of 1 to 1.618 will be more aesthetically pleasing to most people. Actress Jessica Alba is thought to be one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood. Many features of her face are proportioned by the Golden Ratio. Readers will find this discussion to be very interesting.

The author's description of the Reading Wars is very compelling. He explains how generations of young children were deprived of effective reading instruction when teachers were diverted from using direct teaching of letters and sounds. Instead, students were expected to learn to read by memorizing whole words, since mature readers did not sound out words but read whole words at a glance. This was adopted wholesale by educators without any research evidence that it worked.

Willingham provides a lot of detail as to how one can identify valid scientific evidence and separate it from simple promotion of something that sounds good but lacks any real substance. If teachers were to follow his advice, they would put a lot of "professional development" seminar presenters out of business. The result, however, would be more good teaching and less faddishness in education.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A satisfying book for educators and a stimulating one for parents, August 30, 2012
By 
Neal Reynolds (Indianapolis, Indiana) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: When Can You Trust the Experts: How to Tell Good Science from Bad in Education (Hardcover)
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It's a given that this book should be required reading for educators. However, we shouldn't stop there, because parents also need to be knowledgeable of how their children are being educated.

This book is of value for each and everyone of us, though especially for those in a school system. The state of education is continually in flux and it seems that many graduate from high school and even college without the knowledge and skill they need to be of the greatest benefit to our society. And of course educating in the right way, the way for the student to learn, is at the core.

This book does nicely teach each of us to evaluate. Many reviewers feel the author rambles, but it seems to me that there's value in that so-called "rambling" as much as there is in the straight forward ideas he promotes.

And so, in summary, this book is the beginning point for many of us in either, as educators, to turn things around by proper thoughtful evaluation, or as parents anxious to see our progeny off to the best start in life of which they are capable.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An angle that definitely needs to be explored in educational research., September 23, 2012
This review is from: When Can You Trust the Experts: How to Tell Good Science from Bad in Education (Hardcover)
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As a teacher with over 20 years experience, I have heard countless ideas and theories that will revolutionize education and instantly transform every human being on the face of the Earth into potential Harvard freshmen. These theories have come from a group of people ranging from Grandma I met at a sports event to PhD's who work with the state. I often have asked myself many of the same questions explored in this book. Too often broad sweeping comments are made on the state of education and there is absolutely no basis for the "facts" that supposedly support the "solutions" being presented. I like that someone has put a book out to encourage a little bit of questioning with these theories. If you are someone with a stake in education today, even if it's only that you have a child in school, I'd definitely recommend this book. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did and thanks for taking the time to read my review.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Basic but worthwhile, February 25, 2013
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This review is from: When Can You Trust the Experts: How to Tell Good Science from Bad in Education (Hardcover)
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As someone who was very used to reading scientific claims before entering the educational field, in a way I was depressed that this book needed to be written in the first place. But WIllingham's statement is accurate in that many teachers swallow advertising whole-hog and begin to implement widespread changes to curricula and class procedures that have been disproven or are logically nonsensical. In that sense, Willingham's text is a well-needed guide to theoretical claims.

The book consists of two major parts. First, a demonstration as to why educational claims are so easily accepted without proof, and secondly a way to fix this blind spot. The author's main thesis is that educational research is difficult to verify because (a) children are not lab rats and thus do not have behavior as predictable as we'd like, (b) the number of stakeholders involved in education (from the President of the United States all the way down to the four year-old in the classroom) have different goals that often contradict one another, and (b) education is not a hard science, and therefore the credentials and data cannot be treated as a hard science. His four-step process for analyzing data is a simple way to take emotion out of research (we love kids and we therefore get emotional about helping them and are willing to accept nonsense in order to do so). Other than the basic nature of the information, the only weakness is that I think the kind of teacher who will need this book will not understand statistics well enough to put them in action. That said, this is not the fault of the author--you can only do so much in one text.

Overall, I found this to be a worthwhile system that I plan to pass on to colleagues that need it. I'm not one of them, but if research and numbers in education make your head spin, you'll get a lot out of this.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Sets Foundation For Evaluating Claims Yourself - Easy to Read for the Non-Scientist, October 17, 2012
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This review is from: When Can You Trust the Experts: How to Tell Good Science from Bad in Education (Hardcover)
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Willingham is a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia. He has published another book about schooling, is a columnist for the magazine American Teacher and blogs for The Washington Post and Brittanica.com.

This book is written to a layperson, by that I mean, it is written to help a non-scientist learn more about how to evaluate claims made when scientific studies are cited as evidence. The first half of the book is general, foundational information that could apply to any field. The second half is about how to evaluate claims made by people selling products or services to schools or when debating educational pedagogy on a broader scale (phonics vs. whole language reading, etc.).

I found this book very easy to understand. I am not a scientist. I am a homeschooling mother who has read a fair number of books on education, pedagogy, and education reform. I am not a professional teacher. I think this book could be of use to any teacher. It would also be helpful for Board of Education members and other stakeholders to have an awareness of these matters.

In the first half Willingham discusses not just dry information about general science but he discusses the psychological factors that influence why people choose to believe or not believe what they are told or even what they observe. How bias influences not just the judgment when we read an article recommending a new teaching method but how teachers can (without realizing it) view their classroom experiences un-objectively, thus tainting reality to favor the outcome they wanted.

I was also interested in the discussion of how tricky education is compared to something more clear cut such as the applied science fields. Even if a study showed that a certain math program was helpful there are still many variables that can result in poorer results in a classroom, such as the degree to which the individual teacher bought into executing the new math program or what happens in that unique group dynamic in that classroom (between students).

In the second half of the book Willingham lays out a step by step process for teachers or school administrators to use to figure out if making a change is right, and if so, how to evaluate claims made by the marketing people. Here Willingham adds in some advertising and marketing information that rightly should be a factor in the decision-making process. This section is very easy to read and his method seems so simple, it takes work to learn the new thinking processes but it will work if it is used.

Willingham tries very hard to get the reader to feel they are capable and can be empowered to make such decisions using his criteria and his method. However if that is not enough, near the end of the book, he gives an idea for how the teacher's union should create jobs for individuals who are willing and able to help make such decisions. A new position could be created to help schools, whether this is done by a few that would help many or whether it is something done on a state or local level is up for debate.

I found this book fascinating to ponder on, and it is of practical use at the same time. Again I want to stress that this is an easy read for non-scientists, it is approachable and understandable. Willingham's sense of caring for the education and welfare of children is evident as is his respect and admiration for teachers and schools. He just wants everyone to be a bit more scientifically savvy when evaluating claims made for improving teaching methods, and with this book he has laid out his plan clearly and simply.
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When Can You Trust the Experts: How to Tell Good Science from Bad in Education
When Can You Trust the Experts: How to Tell Good Science from Bad in Education by Daniel T. Willingham (Hardcover - July 24, 2012)
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