Beware of ‘Educational Snake-Oil Salespersons’: Ask Them to Provide Evidence by J. Robinson

Beware of ‘Educational Snake-Oil Salespersons’: Ask Them to Provide...

I was having a conversation the other day with a salesperson of an educational product, and he threw out the words, “My product is research-based” at least five times before I decided to call his bluff. I asked, “If your product is research-based, can you provide me with the studies that validate the effectiveness of your products?"

He stared at me a moment before muttering something like, “Well, the product’s methods are research-based, not exactly the product. There have been studies that point out that the method our product uses is research-based.” I could not let it go yet. I asked, “Well can you point me to the studies then that validate the method behind your product.” He said nothing at first and a glimmer of frustration appeared for a moment. Then, he said, “Well, I’ll be glad to find those studies for you and email them to you.” We shook hands and he walked away a lot quicker than he did when he arrived. Needless to say, I never received those studies outlining the research that supported the method behind his product.

I tell this story because way too often, we as educators allow those selling us products to get by with using the words “research-based” and even statements about how their product increases student achievement without asking for the evidence.

I think we should always ask for that information even if we are familiar with it. It will tell us a great deal about both the product and the people selling us the product.

As a lot, educators are a trusting bunch sometimes, but they shouldn’t be. When someone makes claims about their products, we should ask for the research they claim supports their product. We perhaps should even ask for it even if we know that research. 

Our budgets are tight enough as it is, but more importantly, we need to always disturb these notions of research-based and claims of effectiveness. It is not impolite to be skeptical and demand people selling us products to back up their claims. There are way too many salesmen of “educational snake oil" out there. That’s how we end up with those curriculum closets full of instructional materials that no one uses.

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