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The problem with using scientific evidence in education: Why teachers should stop trying to be more like doctors
mediaposted on 2019-03-25, 00:00 authored by Lucinda McKnightLucinda McKnight, Andy Morgan
For teachers to be like doctors, and base practice on more “scientific” research, might seem like a good idea. But medical doctors are already questioning the narrow reliance in medicine on randomised controlled trials that Australia seems intent on implementing in education. In randomised controlled trials of new drugs, researchers get two groups of comparable people with a specific problem and give one group the new drug and the other group the old drug or a placebo. No one knows who gets what. Not the doctor, not the patient and not the person assessing the outcomes. Then statistical analysis of the results informs guidelines for clinical practice. In education, though, students are very different from each other. Unlike those administering placebos and real drugs in a medical trial, teachers know if they are delivering an intervention. Students know they are getting one thing or another. The person assessing the situation knows an intervention has taken place. Constructing a reliable educational randomised controlled trial is highly problematic and open to bias. As a doctor and teacher thinking, writing and researching together we believe that a more honest understanding of the ambivalences and failures of evidence-based medicine is essential for education. Before Australia decides teachers need to be like doctors, we want to tell you what is happening and give you some reasons why evidence based medicine itself is said to be in crisis.