Education and a Civil Society: Teaching Evidence-Based Decision Making


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Eamonn Callan, Tina Grotzer, Jerome Kagan, Richard E. Nisbett, David N. Perkins, and Lee S. Shulman
Teaching Evidence-Based Decision Making in K-16 Education

This collection is part of an American Academy of Arts and Sciences project that explores evidence-based thinking in K16 education. The project proposes that the educational system of the United States should consider how to prepare young people more effectively for the kind of decision-making that is required to understand change, to advocate, and to vote with knowledge about public policy. Citizens who value and know how to use evidence, the project hypothesizes, will be better prepared to participate in the democratic process as informed thinkers. Evidence-based thinking is part of legal and medical training, and the case study method is the foundation of many American business schools. Clearly, this kind of reasoning is considered valuable to the professions, as it is intended to enhance a student’s ability to understand and scrutinize causal claims; to assess and draw inferences from evidence; and to develop or modify appropriate beliefs in the validity of assertions. The wider public would benefit from systematic training in this type of critical thinking.

To explore this topic, the Academy brought together educators, textbook editors, curriculum designers, experts on educational assessment and policy, experts on developmental psychology and the philosophy of science, and social scientists with knowledge of the public’s understanding of complex policy issues. During a series of discussions, chaired by Paul Brest, President of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, several topics were identified for this collection. As each essay reveals, more work needs to be done in the schools, but determining what should be done and how to do it raises additional complex issues. This volume is intended to encourage further conversation about critical thinking and its importance.

The Academy gratefully acknowledges the essayists and other workshop participants whose insights contributed to this volume: Joseph Blatt (Harvard University), Eamonn Callan (Stanford University), Joel Cohen (Rockefeller and Columbia Universities), Tina Grotzer (Harvard University), Eric Hanushek (Hoover Institution), Jerome Kagan (Harvard University), Mark Lepper (Stanford University), Roy Pea (Stanford University), David Perkins (Harvard University), Jason Puskar (Boston College), Michael Ranney (University of California, Berkeley), Lee Ross (Stanford University), Richard Rothstein (Economic Policy Institute), Lee Shulman (Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching), Laura Schulz (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Claude Steele (Stanford University), and Daniel Yankelovich (Viewpoint Learning, Inc.). The Academy also expresses its gratitude to Professors Michael Ranney and Lee Ross for their comments on earlier drafts of the essays; and Professor Tina Grotzer and Rebecca Miller (Harvard Graduate School of Education) for their assistance in compiling the suggestions for further reading.

At the Academy, Martin Malin, Phyllis Bendell, Peter Kardon, and Elizabeth Huttner provided organization, advice, and assistance throughout all phases of this volume.

The Academy would like to thank Paul Brest for encouraging this project and for chairing the workshops. Finally, the Academy is grateful to the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for underwriting this exploration.

Alice A. Noble
Project Director
American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Leslie C. Berlowitz
Chief Executive Officer
American Academy of Arts and Sciences