Wednesday, March 30, 2011

How teacher development could revolutionize our schools

Bill Gates with a spot-on op ed in the Washington Post:

our foundation is working with nearly 3,000 teachers in seven urban school districts to develop fair and reliable measures of teacher effectiveness that are tied to gains in student achievement. Research teams are analyzing videos of more than 13,000 lessons - focusing on classes that showed big student gains so it can be understood how the teachers did it. At the same time, teachers are watching their own videos to see what they need to do to improve their practice.

Our goal is a new approach to development and evaluation that teachers endorse and that helps all teachers improve.

The value of measuring effectiveness is clear when you compare teachers to members of other professions - farmers, engineers, computer programmers, even athletes. These professionals are more advanced than their predecessors - because they have clear indicators of excellence, their success depends on performance and they eagerly learn from the best.

The same advances haven't been made in teaching because we haven't built a system to measure and promote excellence. Instead, we have poured money into proxies, things we hoped would have an impact on student achievement. The United States spends $50 billion a year on automatic salary increases based on teacher seniority. It's reasonable to suppose that teachers who have served longer are more effective, but the evidence says that's not true. After the first few years, seniority seems to have no effect on student achievement.

Another standard feature of school budgets is a bump in pay for advanced degrees. Such raises have almost no impact on achievement, but every year they cost $15 billion that would help students more if spent in other ways.

Perhaps the most expensive assumption embedded in school budgets - and one of the most unchallenged - is the view that reducing class size is the best way to improve student achievement. This belief has driven school budget increases for more than 50 years. U.S. schools have almost twice as many teachers per student as they did in 1960, yet achievement is roughly the same.

What should policymakers do? One approach is to get more students in front of top teachers by identifying the top 25 percent of teachers and asking them to take on four or five more students. Part of the savings could then be used to give the top teachers a raise. (In a 2008 survey funded by the Gates Foundation, 83 percent of teachers said they would be happy to teach more students for more pay.) The rest of the savings could go toward improving teacher support and evaluation systems, to help more teachers become great.


How teacher development could revolutionize our schools

By Bill Gates

Monday, February 28, 2011

As the nation's governors gather in Washington for their annual meeting, they are grappling with more than state budget deficits. They're confronting deep education deficits as well.

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