More kudos

Though it pains me somewhat to say it, Bill Gates has gotten so much right lately that I need a second post to get it all down. Most of what follows is courtesy of a recent "Newsweek" interview with him and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers(!) They are mostly in agreement (!!), so we ought to pay attention.

For starters, Weingarten makes the point that education in America is not 'in decline'; rather, it’s that much of the rest of the world has caught up to us. That's an important distinction. She believes a large part of the problem is that our education system was designed for the industrial age rather than our current knowledge economy.

A key issue from Gates' perspective begins, importantly, with the recognition that we already have a lot of very good teachers. His question - the question, really - is how do we transfer the skills and knowledge of the best teachers to the rest of the profession?  As he sees it, the problem is that "for 90 percent of the teachers in America there’s no (meaningful) feedback."

He goes on to make the fair point that the use of student test scores for measuring student and teacher performance is "better than nothing" - but that we need to develop a group of measures such as "videotaping classrooms, peer interviews, and student interviews" that will help to determine best teaching practices while providing meaningful feedback.

Similarly, Weingarten noted that the current testing paradigm is similar to the "drive-by evaluation" that was common when she was a teacher: neither is particularly useful for helping teachers improve or kids learn. 

But here's a key point: the work of developing a better evaluation model has to get done collaboratively. It cannot be imposed by outsiders with little or no classroom experience. And as Weingarten points out, students, parents, teachers and policymakers all have important roles in that process. But the problem is: "school systems by and large do not work collaboratively. They basically work on conflict. Conflict is the status quo in education."

What struck me is that it doesn't matter to Gates whose fault it is that it got this way. By the way, they both made the point - egregiously ignored by "Waiting for Superman" - that the most educationally successful countries are all unionized! But “if you create a collaborative environment where teachers are trusted, you break out of … the factory model, which is what a lot of these contracts are. In places where the schools are working, people never look at the contract.”

Finally, this point: “if you actually look at some work in Japan or in Singapore on mathematics, kids really understand fractions. They don’t just memorize what a fraction is. They don’t just say one half equals 50 percent; they understand how you get there.”

Student assessment of teaching

A p.s.

Here's a very interesting example of what teacher evaluations might look like in the future:

My Students Help Assess My Teaching


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