Bill and Melinda Gates listen to teachers

March 3, 2010 at 5:20 pm Leave a comment

by Alec Patton

The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, in partnership with Scholastic Books, have published Primary Sources: America’s Teachers on America’s Schools, a report presenting the results of a telephone survey of over 40,000 American teachers.

A few choice findings:

It isn’t all about the money

Fewer than half of teachers (45%) say higher salaries are absolutely essential for retaining good teachers. More teachers say it is absolutely essential to have supportive leadership (68%), time to collaborate (54%), and quality curriculum (49%).

No surprises here – but it does make you wonder why Secretary of State for Education Arne Duncan is so enamored of performance-related pay (which is not exactly the greatest driver for staff collaboration).

It IS all about engagement

Student engagement and year over year progress of students are by far viewed as the most accurate indicators of teacher performance measures (60% and 55%, respectively, rate as very accurate) but are not frequently used to evaluate teachers.

Engagement is dear to the hearts of all of us in Learning Futures, so this is very nice to see.

A teacher’s job doesn’t end at 3 p.m.
The fact that this is being reported as a ‘finding’ makes me suspect that Bill and Melinda Gates should as for some of their money back, but it’s on the press release, so there must be somebody to whom this is surprising…

The report has five main proposals from its research:

1. Establish Clear Standards, Common Across States
2. Use Multiple Measures to Evaluate Student Performance
3. Innovate to Reach Today’s Students
4. Accurately Measure Teacher Performance and Provide Non-Monetary Rewards
5. Bridge School & Home to Raise Student Achievement

I like all of these, with one big caveat that covers points 1 and 4: yes, standards and measures should be clear and accurate, but it’s more important that they be measuring something IMPORTANT. A poor form of measurement can be as clear and accurate as you want (I’m thinking of multiple-choice tests here, for example) but if what it’s measuring isn’t worth measuring, it will skew the priorities of education.

And make no mistake: bad measurements skew the practice of good teachers, because they want the best possible outcomes for their students. This means that if academic success means developing and honing a set of totally non-transferrable test-taking skills, they will spend time on that. This takes time away frome education that means something outside ‘exam conditions’, so students are losing out on learning the skills they will need in order to succeed. Every day, teachers are forced to balance the time they spend teaching, with the time they spend training their students for tests – this is the cost of what I described before as valuing measurability over quality.

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Entry filed under: Education & Children's Services.

Going with the grain….. Barack Obama wants to know what a 21st-century Education means to you

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