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Seduced by the lizard look

A few years ago an American publisher produced a school science book with an amazing cover. It looked, and felt, like a lizard with a bumpy skin. The book flew off the warehouse shelves. It took 75 per cent of the "young science" market that year - but it was not a very good book.

Professor Bob Slavin, of Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, told this tale at the conference to illustrate why the US needs a What Works Clearinghouse to evaluate research and educational products.

The clearing house, which has attracted $18.5 million (pound;11.5m) of federal funding, is similar to the EPPI-Centre set up by the Department for Education and Skills. It will establish an online registry of education programmes and materials that have been rigorously reviewed. The first seven topics to be investigated are all problem areas in the US: beginning reading; maths; high school drop-out; adult literacy; peer-assisted learning in elementary schools; delinquent behaviour; and English language acquisition.

The first report is expected this autumn but despite the short timescale, no one expects the task to be easy. Frederic Moser, a leading educational consultant, predicts that the evaluation teams will struggle to find research that is rigorous enough to base firm judgments on. "They think there's stuff out there now that can be evaluated and there just isn't," he said.

What Works Clearinghouse website: EPPI-Centre

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