Studies in Philosophy and Education

, Volume 29, Issue 5, pp 491–503 | Cite as

Why ‘What Works’ Still Won’t Work: From Evidence-Based Education to Value-Based Education

  • Gert J. J. BiestaEmail author


The idea that professional practices such as education should be based upon or at least be informed by evidence continues to capture the imagination of many politicians, policy makers, practitioners and researchers. There is growing evidence of the influence of this line of thought. At the same time there is a growing body of work that has raised fundamental questions about the feasibility of the idea of evidence-based or evidence-informed practice. In this paper I make a further contribution to this discussion through an analysis of a number of assumptions that inform the discussion. I focus on the epistemological, ontological and praxeological dimensions of the discussion and in each domain identify a deficit. In the epistemological domain there is a knowledge deficit, in the ontological domain an effectiveness or efficacy deficit and in the practice domain an application deficit. Taken together these deficits not only raise some important questions about the very idea of evidence-based practice but also highlight the role of normativity, power and values. Against this background I outline the case for the idea of value-based education as an alternative for evidence-based education. As I am generally concerned about the expectations policy makers hold about what evidence can and should achieve in professional practices such as education, my contribution is primarily meant to provide educators and other professionals with arguments that can help them to resist unwarranted expectations about the role of evidence in their practices and even more so of unwarranted interventions in their practices.


Evidence-based education Evidence-based practice Evidence-informed practice What works Epistemology Ontology Praxeology Values Value-based education Power Normativity 



An earlier version of this paper was presented at the symposium on “Research in the Educational Praxis” at Utrecht University of Applied Sciences, 8 October 2009. I would like to thank Petra Ponte for the invitation and would like to thank those attending for helpful feedback and comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Stirling Institute of EducationUniversity of StirlingStirlingScotland, UK

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