Bill Gates opines on how to solve the world’s greatest problems in the WSJ.
Gates argues we need to harness the power of constant measurement and feedback. I agree – whether its education, economic development, or welfare – every area in which government spends money ought to be measured constantly – and not just, as Gates notes, how much is being spent, but, more importantly, whether taxpayers are getting the results intended.
Missouri taxpayers can see an example of this philosophy Monday morning when the House Committee on Government Oversight and Accountability holds a hearing on whether the Quality Jobs Act has worked as advertised to create jobs in Missouri.
Gates also notes an experiment in education he has funded in Colorado,which is also worth mentioning:
Another place where measurement is starting to lead to vast improvements is in education.
In October, Melinda and I sat among two dozen 12th-graders at Eagle Valley High School near Vail, Colo. Mary Ann Stavney, a language-arts teacher, was leading a lesson on how to write narrative nonfiction pieces. She engaged her students, walking among them and eliciting great participation. We could see why Mary Ann is a master teacher, a distinction given to the school’s best teachers and an important component of a teacher-evaluation system in Eagle County.
Ms. Stavney’s work as a master teacher is informed by a three-year project our foundation funded to better understand how to build an evaluation and feedback system for educators. Drawing input from 3,000 classroom teachers, the project highlighted several measures that schools should use to assess teacher performance, including test data, student surveys and assessments by trained evaluators. Over the course of a school year, each of Eagle County’s 470 teachers is evaluated three times and is observed in class at least nine times by master teachers, their principal and peers called mentor teachers.
The Eagle County evaluations are used to give a teacher not only a score but also specific feedback on areas to improve and ways to build on their strengths. In addition to one-on-one coaching, mentors and masters lead weekly group meetings in which teachers collaborate to spread their skills. Teachers are eligible for annual salary increases and bonuses based on the classroom observations and student achievement.
The program faces challenges from tightening budgets, but Eagle County so far has been able to keep its evaluation and support system intact—likely one reason why student test scores have improved in Eagle County over the past five years.
I think the most critical change we can make in U.S. K–12 education, with America lagging countries in Asia and Northern Europe when it comes to turning out top students, is to create teacher-feedback systems that are properly funded, high quality and trusted by teachers.