Kudos to Mr. Gates

Having recently slammed Bill Gates for his comments on where good teachers come from ("Brain Rules and Empathy"), it's only fair to point out when he gets something right.

His recently-released Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) survey got a lot of things right.

For example, it turns out that "student perception" is an excellent predictor of teacher effectiveness. Students know good teaching when they see it.

The National Council of Teacher Quality put it nicely: "It seems we might all save ourselves a whole lot of time, money, and aggravation now being invested in fixing teacher evaluations by just turning the job over to kids. Heck, that sure would save states and districts an awful lot of money."

This really shouldn't be surprising. Almost everyone can identify the teachers who had the greatest impact on them, and in whose classes they learned the most.

The following student responses were highly correlated with teacher 'value-added' scores

  • My teacher really tries to understand how students feel about things.
  • Students in this class treat the teacher with respect.
  • My teacher has several good ways to explain each topic.
  • My teacher makes lessons interesting.
  • Students speak up and share their ideas about class work.
  • The comments I get on my work help me understand how to improve.

The Gates’ study also looked at the robustness of value-added measures themselves, looking at questions such as whether state tests - from which most value-added scores are determined - correlate with other types of tests, including tests with open-ended responses; and whether a teacher's high performance one year will predict the next. (They do.)

On the other hand, "State tests measuring students' language arts achievement seem to be least able to identify the full range of teacher ability, raising some concerns among the research team about what these tests are measuring.” The researchers concluded that these may just be lousy tests, which is what teachers have said for years.

And then there’s this really good news: "teachers whose students report that they spend a lot of time in the class practicing for the state test are by no means the better teachers." Apparently, ‘teaching to the test’ is not an effective teaching strategy.

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