In most American schools, teachers are evaluated by principals or other administrators who drop in for occasional classroom visits and fill out forms to rate their performance.
The result? More than 9 out of 10 teachers get top marks, according to a prominentÂ study last year by theÂ New Teacher Project, a nonprofit group focusing on improving teacher quality.
Of course they would, which is why we have the current hopeless situation, and when you couple that with teacher union intransigence on performance pay you get a morass of ineptitude.
NowÂ Bill Gates, who in recent years has turned his attention and considerable fortune to improving American education, is investing $335 million through his foundation to overhaul the personnel departments of several big school systems. A big chunk of that money is financing research by dozens of social scientists and thousands of teachers to develop a better system for evaluating classroom instruction.
The effort will have enormous consequences for the movement to hold schools and educators more accountable for student achievement.
Anne Tolley needs to get on the blower to Bill Gates.
Twenty states are overhauling their teacher-evaluation systems, partly to fulfill plans set in motion by a $4 billion federal grant competition, and they are eagerly awaiting the research results.
For teachers, the findings could mean more scrutiny. But they may also provide more specific guidance about what is expected of the teachers in the classroom if new experiments with other measures are adopted â including tests that gauge teachersâ mastery of their subjects, surveys that ask students about the learning environments in their classes and digital videos of teachersâ lessons, scored by experts.
âItâs huge,â saidÂ Deborah Loewenberg Ball, dean of theÂ University of Michigan School of Education. âTheyâre trying to do something nobodyâs done before, and do it very quickly.â
Actually guiding and training teachers as to mastery of their subjects should be welcomed with open arms. Of course, unsurprisingly teachers unions are unhappy.
The Gates research is by no means the first effort of its kind. Economists have already developed a statistical method called value-added modeling that calculates how much teachers help their students learn, based on changes in test scores from year to year. The method allows districts to rank teachers from best to worst.
Value-added modeling is used in hundreds of districts. But teachers complain that boiling down all they do into a single statistic offers an incomplete picture; they want more measures of their performance taken into account.
Yep same old tired arguments from teachers opposing any sort of change. The thing is they fail to offer any alternative other than the status quo. They are yet to learn that nature tells us that when a vacuum exists it is only temporary and then it is filled. Teachers are pretty much a vacuum when it comes to new ideas, there are exceptions, of course but they are rare. David Farrar highlights one today.
The Gates research uses value added as a starting point, but aims to develop other measures that can not only rate teachers but also help educators understand why one is more successful than another.
Researchers and educators involved in the project described it as maddeningly complex in its effort to separate the attributes of good teaching from the idiosyncrasies of individual teachers.
Mr. Gates is tracking the research closely. The use of digital video in particular has caught his attention. In an interview, he cited its potential for evaluating teachers and for helping them learn from talented colleagues.
Digital video has advanced hugely, and is now almost ubiquitous, to have mounted such a study before wouldÂ haveÂ required enormous resources being tied up in specialist videographers and equipment. The key thing that digital tecnology ahs enabled is the ability to captureÂ largeÂ amounts of video of effective teaching techniques and to share that information.
âSome teachers are extremely good,â Mr. Gates said. âAnd one of the goals is to say, you know, âLetâs go look at those teachers.â Whatâs unbelievable is how little the exemplars have been studied. And then saying, âO.K., How do you take a math teacher whoâs in the third quartile and teach them how to get kids interested â get the kid whoâs smart to pay attention, a kid whoâs behind to pay attention?â Teaching a teacher to do that â you have to follow the exemplars.â
The meticulous scoring of videotaped lessons for this project is unfolding on a scale never undertaken in educational research, said Catherine A. McClellan, a director for theEducational Testing Service who is overseeing the process.
By next June, researchers will have about 24,000 videotaped lessons. Because some must be scored using more than one protocol, the research will eventually involve reviewing some 64,000 hours of classroom video. Early next year, Dr. McClellan expects to recruit hundreds of educators and train them to score lessons.
Yes Anne Tolley really should be calling Bill Gates and seeing if he could do some experimentation in New Zealand. Of course that will give the teachers unions conniptions, which would, of course, be an added bonus.
âVideo lasts,â Dr. McClellan said, creating possibilities for dialogue among teachers about improving classroom techniques. âColleagues can watch your video and say, âRight here â where you did that â try this next time.â So the teacher learns a new skill.â
There are advantages for teacher evaluations, too, Dr. Kane said.
With videos, for instance, several professionals, rather than just one principal, could rate the same classroom performance, making ratings less subjective, he said.
âIt potentially creates a cottage industry for retired principals, or even expert teachers, to moonlight on weekends scoring classroom observations,â he said.
An Internet-based approach to teacher evaluation could also alleviate some pressures on school districts. New laws in many states, after all, are requiring more frequent observations of teachers.
And right there is a damn good reason for the rollout of Fibre to the Premises. Something that Labour, top heavy with ex-teachers and unionists can’t see the value in.
The costs aren’t that huge in setting up such a system.
Teachscape, a contractor providing cameras, software, and other services for the research, estimated first-year startup costs of about $1.5 million for a district with 140 schools and 7,000 teachers to buy one camera per school and lease the software to carry out classroom observations using digital video. After that, annual costs would drop to about $800,000, said Mark Atkinson, the chief executive of Teachscape, which is based in San Francisco.
Of courseÂ theÂ singleÂ biggestÂ hurdle to overcome is….you guessed it…the teachers unions.
In addition to the cost â which many struggling districts may consider too high â another barrier could be teacher opposition. The Memphis teachers union, an affiliate of the National Education Association, has partnered with the foundation for the project. But Keith Harris, its president, said the use of videotaped observations in evaluations raised troubling questions.
âWhose eyes would see these videos?â Mr. Harris asked. âWho would own them? This seems like an âI gotchaâ kind of thing. We think these observations deserve a human being.â
Randi Weingarten, president of theÂ American Federation of Teachers, which has several affiliates participating in the research, also expressed reservations. âVideotaped observations have their role but shouldnât be used to substitute for in-person observations to evaluate teachers,â Ms. Weingarten said. âIt would be hard to justify ratings by outsiders watching videotapes at a remote location who never visited the classroom and couldnât see for themselves a teacherâs interaction and relationship with students.â
Typical. The teachers don’t want people to actually see what they get up to. Same goes here with the secrecy the Teachers Council places on itsÂ deliberationsÂ on dirty, dodgy teachers.Â TransparencyÂ and clarity are always good. Note the stupid unionists who claims in the same sentence that “outsiders watching videotapes at a remote location who never visited the classroom and couldnât see for themselves a teacherâs interaction and relationship with students.”
He clearly doesn’t understand that the whole idea of the video system is precisely so assessors CAN see the interaction and so they can learn, understand and correct in order to improve teaching outcomes.
Anne Tolley really should give Bill Gates a call. If she doesn’t know his number then she should just ask Williamson.