Melinda Gates on The Measures of Effective Teaching project

From the Washington Post article

The article explains why the Gates Foundation is focused on effective teaching:

"The key to helping students learn is making sure that every child has an effective teacher every single year.

Teachers are at the center of our strategy at the Gates Foundation. Since my husband and I started investing in education 10 years ago, our foundation has partnered with more than 1,000 high schools. Our grantmaking wasn't always oriented around effective teaching, but gradually we noticed that the schools with the biggest gains were those doing revolutionary work inside the classroom."

She asks the question,
"So why hasn't education policy focused more on raising teacher effectiveness? The country has tried a lot of (outrageously expensive) reforms that don't improve student outcomes -- such as reducing class size by one or two students and paying teachers to get master's degrees. Part of the problem is that it's so hard to measure teaching. Anyone who has ever been inspired by a teacher knows that pedagogy is both a science and an art. Finding a sensitive instrument to evaluate it has been a huge obstacle. Tests yield clear numerical grades, but they can't measure all the intangibles that make a teacher effective.

To help surmount this logjam, a team of researchers (with support from the Gates Foundation) is working with more than 3,000 teachers in seven school districts to develop measures of teacher effectiveness. The project uses seven methods, including videotaping classes, analyzing test scores, and surveying teachers, students and parents."

I find it encouraging that the methods the foundation is using all have high effect sizes according to John Hattie's Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta Analyses Relating to Achievement. .

Unfortunately, the Race to the Top $ is being awarded now with strings attached to teacher effectiveness that has not been defined by this ongoing research. Will teachers get stuck with being tied to standardized test scores as a quick response?

I don't think it's fair to tie a teacher's pay to the performance of his/her students if the teaching does not have control of the materials and curriculum they are using to meet the state standards. If those decisions are made at the state/district level then those are the people who should be accountable for the scores. If you force materials and curriculum on teachers than they should only be held accountable for fidelity of implementation (sound familiar?) - ie how well they follow the script.

Most of the teachers I know did not sign up to be script readers. They are professionals who work hard to craft a learning environment for their students and they understand that learning is a process and part of learning is building personal relationships with their students.


wseadawg said…
I applaud Melinda and Bill's sentiments and goals, but here's the catch. Who gets to be their lab rats and what happens to those subjected to the methods that are tried, but fail? Another lost generation of kids? Like what's happening with inquiry math scores in SPS?

The concern that seems to go missing in all of this is: What about the potential damage done by experiments that don't work?

I'm all for progress and improvements that make teaching more "effective" so long as it meets my definition of an effective teacher, but the catch is, who gets to decide?

One big positive to this project (I hope) is that, for once it seems, somebody is consulting and working with actual teachers instead of TFA alums and other so-called teaching experts who haven't taught in 20 plus years.
"... biggest gains were those doing revolutionary work inside the classroom." Teaching from a script isn't revolutionary so SPS teachers, once curriculum alignment is in place, won't have much leeway in their teaching.

"reducing class size by 1 or 2 students". With all due respect, Mrs. Gates, 1 or 2 wouldn't make the difference and it's a little disingenuous to then say class size must not have an impact on student outcomes. Also, with due respect, how big is the class for your son or daughter? Oh right, not in public schools.

I'm a little unclear, Megan, about the teacher having "control" of materials and curriculum. Did you mean they should pick it?

Also, on the subject of script reading, I have learned that a few of our academic "coaches" have been doing some supervisory actions (which is NOT part of their job description and the district told the Board C&I committee this). What have they done? They have reported teachers who aren't staying on script or who skip some of the script.

I'll have to take this up with the members of the C&I committee but Michael DeBell told Director Kennedy he was worried about spending so much money on coaches and the Board would want to see outcomes. The outcome should not be ratting out teachers who go off script. (I also learned that two of the coaches are related to two Education Directors and have less than 5 years experience as teachers. While there is nothing wrong with people working in the district who are related, there is something a little odd about having your mother be your boss.)
zb said…
The teaching effectiveness project, initially, at least, is observational -- they're going to watch teachers (with video cams), test cohorts of students (I don't know how), and analytic (outside observers are going to observe the teachers to look at what their doing). They are going to provide feedback to teachers during the course of the project.

(All from the website)

I don't know how this information will be used, or what they'll find, but on its face, it seems like a reasonably designed observational study. Perhaps they'll learn something. Perhaps not. I plan to keep an eye on how the information will be used, but I find nothing wrong about the study on its face.

Oh, and if they succed at this, perhaps they could do a similar project to figure out how to make effective art, and we could stop spending all that time on wasted art (books, music, movies, . . . .) and just produce the effective stuff (though not sure what effective means).

But then, I'm not sure what effective means for learning, either (ignoring the question of effective teaching).
Chris S. said…
Thanks Megan. I like your point that the work on how to measure teacher performance is just getting started, an acknowledgement that test scores are insufficient, yet the WA legislature is gung-ho to go with whatever yardsticks are available to get fed $$. Is it going to be worth it?

I think we can learn some lessons from NCLB. Whatever easy assessment method was available becomes punitive. Populations of disadvantaged students suffer disproportionately from non-productive disruptions.

I'll say again that there are ways to evaluate teacher effectiveness within the union contract. They are not easy, and they are not used. I am hesitant to let test scores get a even the tiniest toe-hold because they are easy to administer, and I believe they will quickly become the one and only yardstick.
suep. said…
Indeed, how does one define "effective"? In the current feeding frenzy of "Race to the Top," the ed. reformers seem to think the only real measure of a teacher is how well his/her students perform on standardized tests.

That's an oppressively narrow, and inaccurate, definition.

It also shifts the blame for student underperformance from the true main factors -- poverty, and the chronic underfunding of public schools -- onto teachers.

I second Melissa's comment about M. Gates' dismissal of the importance of smaller class sizes. The Gates children all went to private school, as did Bill himself, where a main selling point is smaller class sizes. Some kind of doublethink is apparently operating there.

I am glad, however, that M. Gates has at least recognized that teaching is both an art and a science. In fact, we made that same point recently on our blog (

"The Art of Teaching (& the automatons of "education reform")

I came across a Seattle magazine article from 2008 the other day called “Hot Button: Math Problems.” It said that Seattle Public Schools math teachers are being forced to exactly replicate what someone in Japan has deemed a “perfect lesson” right down to where they must stand in the classroom.

“The district is also trying to improve teaching methodology. [Seattle Public Schools’ K-12 math program manager Rosalind] Wise wants her math teachers to take advantage of all the new information about how to teach. For example, next year in every middle school, one math teacher will work with a “math coach” to develop a monthly “perfect math lesson,” in which everything, from the concept to where the teacher stands, is planned. Then this lesson will be taught in front of all the other math teachers in a “studio classroom,” so they can see it and copy it. This approach has been adopted from a Japanese model with the idea of standardizing instruction and giving teachers a precise and well-thought-out plan for teaching.” – Bob Geballe, Seattle Magazine

The fact that this lesson comes from Japan which recently unveiled the first fully automated robot teacher might make one wonder if teach-bots might well be the ideal of certain “education reformers” who seem to have such disdain for living and breathing teachers and, indeed, call them “human capital” instead of human beings. Robots aren’t likely to form unions, ask for fair working conditions and rights, will never need to take a leave of absence for illness or a sick child, and they can surely be programmed to stand wherever anyone wants them to all day long if need be!

Such authoritarian micromanaging of a professional individual is pretty bizarre.

It’s also laughable.

suep. said…

Sure, there is some pedagogical, experiential wisdom applicable to teaching, but so much of what goes into good teaching is not so readily measurable -- and certainly not determined by where a teachers stands in the classroom.

Teaching demands a great deal of a person -- heart, mind, theatrics, management skills, quick thinking, a love of children, a love of knowledge, structure to keep things in order and a degree of predictability, as well as flexibility when a changing situation merits it, creativity and the ability to provide guidance that does not stifle the creativity of a child.

Teaching is not a profession one enters if one wishes to be rich or lazy. Most public school teachers work long hours, buy supplies out of their own money and are not paid as well as people in other fields.

Yet there are some who are taking aim at our teachers right now. Ganging up on them, in fact, in the guise of “education reform.” Though they have no teaching experience themselves, these powerful or wealthy individuals and their allied organizations are telling teachers what to teach, how to teach, even where to stand in the classroom. They want to test students every chance they get and measure teachers' worth by those standardized, computerized tests. They want to tie teachers' pay to these test scores, regardless of whether the child is learning in ways that can’t be measured by tests, and punish teachers financially if children don’t test well, regardless of what else may factor into a child’s test scores.

I guarantee that this approach will stifle the very magic and soul of teaching.

And it will fail.

Here’s why: Teaching is an art – not a computer app. (continued at Seattle Ed 2010)
suep. said…
A recent study by Vanderbilt University's National Center on Performance Incentives showed that "merit pay" doesn't work -- it does not improve student performance.
Anonymous said…
After reading all of the comments above, I have little to add, well, maybe a little.

Scripts in math, hmmm. My daughter was taught in an entirely different way and it has helped her now immeasurably in so many different ways.

She did attend a small private school with small classes so that in itself made a huge difference. She was also taught that there were many different ways to solve a math problem. There was not just one way, but many ways. That allowed her the opportunity and freedom to explore the math and play with the numbers. That spilled out into the rest of her life where she has discovered that there is more than one way to solve any problem. My daughter loved math and would, in 6th grade, work with her teacher’s assistant on concepts in physics which she enjoyed. Then we moved to Mercer Island where I thought, per the WASL scores, she would be provided with an excellent education, on par with the one that she had received in her private school. I was so wrong. The math was dumbed down to the test and there was just one way to solve a problem and it you didn’t do it that way, it was wrong. My daughter lost her interest in math after many frustrated evenings of doing homework a certain way with no room to play.

I learned my lesson about test scores and teacher effectiveness. She went from an open curriculum to one that was pre-designed and taught to a test. From that I now see no value to teachers being assessed by way of a test that is taken by a student.

We found Nova High School, a school where the staff is allowed to teach and respond to the capabilities of the students so that all students have an opportunity to enjoy learning and succeed at any level.

The Gates are spending so much time and money trying to find the answer to education when it truly is in their own back yard. Just look at schools like Nova and other alternative programs that we have here in Seattle to find all of your answers. And, if any one from the Gates’ Foundation has the temerity to read this blog, check out Anneliese’s Academy in Laguna Beach. There you will also find your “revolutionary” teaching.
Anonymous said…
Regarding the Race to the Top funding, it is amazing to me how many states will do anything for a one time shot of what is proportionate to each student very little money, in some states they have figured it is about $100 per student compared to the overall actual cost of about $4,000 per student. And what do they, we, have to do to get that money? Change our entire school system whether it might work for us or not with possibly no additional federal funding for such things as merit pay in the future. Those bonuses would come out of the pockets of the taxpayers and at this time, we don’t have enough money to provide safe and clean environments for many of our children or enough materials and books for our teachers.

Yes the federal dollars are at this point roughly $5B but once you break that down, state by state, it comes out to very little so don’t let that big number fool you.

The League of Education Voters, LEV, and the Washington State PTSA, are sending out e-mails about Bill 6696 regarding education reform and an amendment that they are pushing to add to the bill. The bill itself is basically what all of us would like to see (please take the time to read it for yourself) but the amendment has to do with merit pay in so many words. This is a quote from the PTSA Newsletter:

“Today the Senate heard 6696 on the floor. To explain our recent involvement with this bill, WSPTA, as a member of the Excellent Schools Now Coalition was willing to support some floor amendments. We support the idea that statewide measures of growth be developed for district use. (This work is being done as a part of the bill, but not to the full extent advocated by Excellent Schools now.) We also support the ideas that student growth data should comprise a significant portion of teacher and principal evaluations.”

The “student growth data” (don’t you love all of these edu-speak terms?), meaning tests, to determine a teacher’s AND a principal’s performance. There was a hearing this week that I was not able to attend but where the PTSA and LEV were to request this amendment. It is up to the Education Committee now to decide on the amendment before the bill is introduced into the State Senate. That’s why the e-mail blitz, to get parents who might not know what all of this means to click a button on the LEV e-mail, to support merit pay. But when it’s buried in edu-speak and in language that we would all agree to, who doesn’t want the best education for their students?, it’s easy to miss the finer points. I think that this approach is cynical at best on the part of LEV and the statewide PTSA.

So, before you click buttons on any e-mail sent out by these and other organizations, please read the fine print.

Here is the link to Bill 6696.
Anonymous said…
One last item.

There is an interesting op-ed in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about merit pay, teaching to the test and “adequate yearly progress”.


"Mandates cheat students, educators"
Dorothy Neville said…
In reference to the Japanese and the scripted lessons.

I read a book recently about the TIMSS video study, The Teaching Gap. it gives a lot of details of the Japanese mathematics teaching experience. Yes, the lessons are carefully scripted, but that's the only aspect that is relevant. What is most relevant is that the Japanese teachers themselves are the professionals that create the lessons. They do the creating, the critiquing and the improving. They work together to improve lesson plans in ways that are specifically relevant to their students. Read the book and see how we are doing the complete antithesis here with coaches from above mandating a script.

From a review:

"Chapter seven looks at Japan's approach to improving teaching through explicit learning goals for students, a shared curriculum, administrative support, and teachers making gradual improvement in their practice. The Japanese system not only mentors and trains teachers, but also encourages teachers to function as researchers-in-context who develop and test new teaching techniques. The authors assert that instead of copying these ideas we must empower teachers to be leaders in supplying ideas to the research and development system in order to improve classroom teaching. "

Replicating the lesson script completely and insultingly misses the point. We could be replicating the methodology of having the teachers be the professional researchers who use their classroom knowledge and content knowledge to improve instruction.
Megan Mc said…
I should point out that I think scripts are very helpful for new teachers or when teaching a new program - I just don't think teachers should be forced to follow a script when they don't need it.

Melissa, I do think teachers should be allowed to select their own texts and curriculum or at least have influence at the school level in selecting them. If I were in the union I would push to have teachers be in charge of materials and curriculum rather than leaving it up to the district/board. Curriculum alignment should be done at the school level and decided upon by the teachers in the building.

I know a lot of people are distrusting of the Gates foundation but I am excited about this research project especially if they back it up later with money to pay for teacher collaboration.

I hope it proves that all those coaches should get back in the classrooms where they can put their good skills to better use by working with students and having teachers in need work with them there. It doesn't make any sense to pull an excellent teacher from classroom teaching to support a novice teacher for a few hours each week. Instead the novice teacher should be placed in the class to see the excellent teacher in action and work with him/her there.
Sanford said…
Teachers must understand the basic principles. M. Gates does not even mention this. Teachers must understand how students think, and build from there stressing the basic principles. See "Teaching and Helping Students Think and Do Better" on amazon.
udubgrad said…
I personally know two top notch teachers who say they would have been rated "ineffective" at their former school. Today they enjoy the accolades of parents, fellow teachers and students. They have not changed their methods, personality, etc. They were at a high needs school where students came from homes with drug use, theft, no help with homework, a really wicked principal, no PTA and an unstable staff (due to the principal). Add onto that a mandated experimental math program that doesn't work, crowded classrooms, main streaming special needs students etc.--well maybe teachers aren't the all-powerful beings Gates is trying to make them out to be. Where there are simplistic answers to complex problems, we should always be a little suspect.

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