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Volume 22, Number 3
May/June 2006

Better than Best

How insights from cognitive science can moderate the debate over education reform


A recent headline in the Wall Street Journal captures an all-too-familiar critique of the teaching profession: “The Best Ways to Make Schoolchildren Learn? We Just Don’t Know.” I add the italics to highlight a motif pervasive in debates over education policy: What ails our schools is imperfect knowledge, and if only educators could be as sure of classroom practice as, say, medical doctors are of surgical technique, we would know, once and for all, the best ways to teach all children.

The idea that there is one best way to teach all children, and that we can know with a high degree of confidence what that is, has inspired—and frustrated—education reformers for centuries. But it’s not obvious that the search for unequivocally “best” solutions is well suited to the complexity of schools and teaching.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


Also by this Author

    For Further Information

    For Further Information

    H. Gardner. The Mind’s New Science: A History of the Cognitive Revolution. New York: Basic Books, 1985.

    H.A. Simon, “From Substantive to Procedural Rationality,” in S.J. Latsis (ed.), Method and Appraisal in Economics. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1976, 65-86.

    D. Tyack and L. Cuban. Tinkering toward Utopia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.

    O. Williamson. Markets and Hierarchies: Analysis and Antitrust Implications. New York: Free Press, 1975.