Tuesday, April 09, 2013

In Response to Bill Gates on Evaluating Teachers

An April 4, 2013, Washington Post op-ed by Bill Gates addressed " A fairer way to evaluate teachers." Following is a response to the points he raised:

Mr. Gates begins with a sports analogy about Tom Brady, pointing out that the top NFL quarterback's slow foot speed was only one way to evaluate his talent. Had that been the only criteria used in selecting their quarterback, the New England Patriots may have missed out on three Super Bowl victories. This analogy struck home for two reasons. First was the illustration it provided of how important it is that we use multiple measures to evaluate teachers. Second, I have a nephew, B.J. Coleman, who was drafted as a quarterback by the Green Bay Packers, and I can attest to the intense evaluation of his talent using multiple measures.

I totally agree that multiple measures must be used when evaluating teachers. These measures should include such items as student surveys, principal observations, peer observations, student progress and others. I suggest we take this approach a step further. Professional football prospects are willing to subject themselves to intense multi-measurements because the financial rewards of being selected are definitely worth it. When we are able to pay teachers a professional wage I believe we can be much more intense in our selection processes.

Mr. Gates also provided examples of schools developing tests in subjects beyond those included in state assessments. I agree that this practice is ill-conceived. In Kentucky we are looking at developing SMART goals in these areas instead of trying to develop tests, and I believe that is the right way to go. We must use some common sense as we move forward.

"Efforts are being made to define effective teaching and give teachers the support they need to be as effective as possible," Mr. Gates wrote. Efforts in Kentucky provide examples. The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence has been working with a Team on Effective Teaching during the last year. This group, which includes a strong teacher voice, has been studying the teaching profession and what is needed to help teachers become as effective as possible. It is so important that this type of work move forward across the country, with a focus on the big picture.

Also, Kentucky has moved slowly in the development of a teacher evaluation system, seeking and incorporating input from representatives from all stakeholder groups, knowing that by going slowly now we can move quickly later. A critical issue raised in the op-ed is having teachers involved in the development of the evaluation systems. "Teachers want to be held accountable for their students" is totally correct. It is much better to be thoughtful and do things right the first time than to rush ahead making rash decisions. Many lessons can be learned from states that have moved too fast. An advocacy group from Tennessee, SCORE, has done some great work in sharing these lessons.

Kentucky's statewide Teacher Evaluation Steering Committee, created by the state Department of Education, has been meeting for more than two years, learning new ideas and studying feedback from Kentucky educators as the state builds a new growth and effectiveness system step by careful step.

Throughout the process, the commitment has been to do this work with teachers. This fall will mark the beginning of a statewide pilot, with full implementation scheduled for 2014-15. Again, our hope is that by going slowly on the design, it will prepare us to go faster on strengthening the work in all our classrooms.

Evaluation systems, when done well, can have a very positive impact on effective teaching and, when done poorly, be very negative. I would encourage all advocates to study the results from the M.E.T. research on evaluations and talk with your state leaders about ensuring that multiple measures are always used. It is also critically important that we advocate to have stakeholders at these tables.

Finally, I want to thank Bill Gates for his support of the education of our children. Whether or not you agree with him on everything, it is undeniable that this is a person who is standing up to try to help, something he does not have to do.


Skip Kifer said...

The Gates Foundation is wonderful when it comes to mosquito nets and eliminating malaria. It is substantially less than wonderful when it comes to educational matters. It would be interesting to know how much money it has wasted because it ignores the context for and the implementation of its initiatives. But explicating that is for another day.

It is nice to know that Bill Gates now believes that a single measure ought not be used to make important educational decisions. Welcome to an early 20th century standard. But, it is not nice to know that he believes the answer to the single measure question is simply more measurements. Tom Brady, his slow poster child, was drafted 199th and was initially a 4th string quarterback, despite the multiple measures the NFL uses. These complex decisions are not just a matter of getting more data.

If he were to sit down with five, say middle school or high school, students and ask them what makes a good teacher, he would learn something. Having done that with college students, I have some sense of what they think is a good teacher - almost any stereotypical teacher and never about test scores. These teachers are warm, open and loving. No, they are task masters who expect more that "I" thought I could do. No, they are in love with their subject matter and want me to love it too. No, they are idiosyncratic and iconoclastic. No, they concerned about me not the content. And, so forth.

I suspect one could measure those various attributes but it would be very expensive and extremely difficult to do. It would lead to the equivalent of being 199th in the draft.

Years ago Michael Scriven wrote what I believe it the best thing out there: The Duties of a Teacher. It is a reminder of how much we expect of our teachers.

I could not believe that Stu Silverman recommended "studying the results from the M.E.T research. Looking only at the results of research is a surefire way to make sure one does not understand it. Perhaps that is what Bill Gates has been doing.

Anonymous said...

I always get a hoot out of how education has become so focused on achieving an idealized "high performing students" and "highly effective teacher". Seems like we aren't preparing either for the world which awaits them once they walk out of the narrow parameters of the classroom to function in the real world with the rest of us slobs.

THat is not to embrace mediocrity but I am thinking that the basic human motivations and general modes of learning about the same as they were a generations ago and will probably continue to be. Darn Athenian, Manchurian, American Colonial.......kids - don't work as hard as we use to and just want to play and take short cuts and but their teachers are so boring with their old style teaching and self important curriculum.