Did you know that the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation has spent nine years and $2 billion to improve America’s public schools? The Foundation now has a five-year plan to study teacher effectiveness.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will spend one half billion dollars over the next five years to study teacher effectiveness and how to measure it in the classroom. The teacher effectiveness study has two phases. Phase One consists of research to create and try out methods for rating teachers. Phase 2 is to try out new ways for recruiting teachers, training them, assigning them to appropriate classrooms and assessing them.
The Gates Foundation proposal has four main ideas:
1. Put the best teachers in the most challenging classrooms.
2. Give best teachers new roles as mentors and coaches, while keeping them in front of children
3. Make tenure a meaningful milestone
4. Create a fair procedure for dismissing ineffective teachers
It seems that student test scores will be one of the parameters used in the research. One research idea that the Gates Foundation wants to try is making digital videos of thousands of teachers in their classrooms. Researchers will then track attributes of teacher performance and correlate the performance attributes with student test scores.
Will the teachers know they are being recorded on any given day? Will the researchers be able to observe the teachers’ true classroom behavior? We all know that we behave differently when we know we’re being recorded.
The correlation between teacher pay and student achievement is being called merit pay, and it is one of the Keystones of the No Child Left Behind act. Merit pay is a very controversial topic in education. Exactly how should student achievement be measured? Not all competent students do well on standardized tests. Test anxiety can skew the results negatively.
Teachers in both public and private schools complain that they spend most of their time teaching to standardized tests. Gone are the days of spontaneous teachable moments, replaced by hours of practice tests and drills. Veteran teachers advise us not to rely so heavily on standardized test results.
Exactly how should teacher effectiveness be measured? Is the teacher who instills a love for learning in a student who was about to drop out of school not effective simply because that student cannot pass standardized tests? This kind of effectiveness cannot be measured with numbers. What about that teacher who helps a student overcome their fear of math? If a standardized testing session is scheduled soon afterward, the student will not have had time to make the kind of progress that will show up on a standardized test. Is that teacher still ineffective?
And what about the important areas of school life outside of academics? If the teacher is a master at modeling socialization skills, yet the students perform only marginally or average on standardized tests, is this teacher ineffective? Should this teacher be removed from the school system?
Many educators are opposed to the tenure system, a system supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Some of those opposed to tenure would like to do away with it altogether, while others would like to reform it. The stereotype is that tenured teachers do not give 100% effort like they did prior to being tenured. In some cases the stereotype is true. But in most cases it is not. What mechanism will the Gates foundation include to make tenure meaningful?
The Gates foundation will be butting heads with teachers and teachers unions if it tries to alter any of the policies created for removing ineffective teachers. The process for removing a teacher is a long and complicated one, and the details have been hammered out in long bargaining sessions between administrators and teachers. To ensure success for its research project, the Gates foundation will need to review all the progress that has already been made in this crucial area and should not try to “reinvent the wheel.”
Ideally, every student will be with an effective teacher every school year. That is a high and worthwhile goal to seek. How much money and how much time and how many studies will it take? How much time do we have left?