John B. Willett

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John Willett is a U.S.-based professor of education, specializing in the teaching, development and application of quantitative methods.

He was born in 1947 in Leeds and raised from the age of 10 in the nearby town of Harrogate, in the county of Yorkshire, in the North of England. He attended Harrogate Grammar School, and subsequently studied physics at Worcester College, Oxford University from 1967 through 1970. Briefly, from 1970 through 1971, he became a professional musician, playing bass guitar in a short-lived rock n'roll band -- named "e. Bo Jobb" -- in the North of England.

Willett then taught high-school physics and mathematics at the Island School, Hong Kong, from 1972 through 1978, and went on to train in-service teachers of physics in the School of Education at Hong Kong University, from 1978 through 1980. While serving in Hong Kong, he authored a science textbook for students in Hong Kong schools, entitled "A New School Physics for Hong Kong" and hosted the popular TV science-magazine show, "Tomorrow's World," weekly -- each Sunday evening -- on Hong Kong's TVB Pearl. He moved to the USA in 1980, with his wife and daughter, where he obtained a master's degree in statistics and a doctorate in quantitative methods at Stanford University, graduating from the latter in 1985.

Since 1985, he was a faculty member at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education,[1] eventually rising to the position of full professor and holding an endowed chair and being awarded the title of Charles William Eliot Professor of Education.[2] He is an expert in the application of statistical methods for the analysis of longitudinal data, and he taught courses in quantitative methods.

With his colleague Judy Singer, he authored the book Applied Longitudinal Data Analysis: Modeling Change and Event Occurrence.[3] It was published in 2003 by Oxford University Press and covered topics in individual growth modeling and survival analysis.

Most recently, Willett -- with his collaborator, Richard J. Murnane -- published a new volume to present and explain new methods for making causal inferences in social and educational research using quantitative data. The book is entitled Methods Matter: Improving Causal Inference in Educational and Social Research and was published in 2011 by Oxford University Press It is dedicated to the proposition that empirical evidence for the success of educational interventions is only credible if it can support causal conclusions. The book is organized around a series of important substantive research questions in education and uses real examples to introduce material on the design of true experiments, on natural experiments and regression-discontinuity strategies, on instrumental variables estimation and on stratification and propensity-score methods for selection bias correction.

Willett retired from his position at Harvard University in 2013 and now lives in Santa Cruz, California, enjoying the sun and his grandchildren.


  1. ^ "Education Week: Ideas & Findings". Education Week News. 12 July 1995. Retrieved 14 December 2010. Harvard education professors Richard J Murnane and John B Willett.... 
  2. ^ Sherman, Natalie I. (17 May 2006). "Acting Dean Cast as GSE Chief". Harvard Crimson. Retrieved 14 December 2010. 
  3. ^ "Applied Longitudinal Data Analysis: Modeling Change and Event Occurrence (Book Review)". Journal of the American Statistical Association. American Statistical Association. 100: 352–353. 1 March 2005. doi:10.1198/jasa.2005.s7. Retrieved 13 December 2010. 

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