I had a lot of good teachers when I was growing up. Through the sixth grade, I attended public school, where a lot of the teachers would find me additional books to read on subjects that interested me. They encouraged me to spend time in the library. My handwriting wasn’t good, it was a little bit sloppy, but my elementary teachers encouraged me to improve. (It's still not anything a penmanship teacher would be too proud of.)
When I went on to Lakeside School, the teachers encouraged me in math and physics especially. They also allowed me to go and work in the room that had the computer, which some of them found a little daunting. This combination of good luck and good timing would change my life forever.
Today, a lot of research has shown that teacher effectiveness is one of the most important factors in determining how well students learn and whether they succeed in school. But we don’t really know very much about what makes some teachers great, or how to help other teachers be like them. Our foundation is helping support research to help figure this out, so that high-quality teaching will become more of the norm.
We’re also trying to help schools develop tools to evaluate teachers, so that highly effective teachers can be recognized and rewarded and others can be helped to improve or encouraged to do other things. We think it’s important for schools to retain teachers based on their effectiveness, not just their seniority.
Student test scores alone are not a good enough measure of effective teaching. In a recent New York Times op-ed, I expressed my concern that publicizing individual teachers’ scores, as some schools are beginning to do, will just embarrass people and make it harder to get everyone on board with effective evaluation systems.
To actually improve learning, evaluation should take a bunch of measures into account besides test scores, like students’ opinions of their teachers and classroom observations by principals and other experts. Evaluation also should give teachers specific feedback that helps them improve. These recommendations are explained in a new report ‘MET’ Made Simple: Building Research-Based Teacher Evaluations that summarizes some interesting research on how to measure effective teaching.
A few schools are showing how to do it well. Last fall, Melinda and I visited public schools in Hillsborough County, Florida, where teachers receive in-depth feedback from their principal and from specially trained peers. We were blown away by the success they’re having in the classroom and by the enthusiasm of teachers, principals and students we talked with.
I think that developing a systematic way to help teachers get better is the most powerful idea in education today.