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Bill Gates and Integral Education 2010-Sep-30 at 08:21 PST

Posted by Scott Arbeit in Blog.
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Did you know that Bill Gates spoke to the American Federation of Teachers over the summer?  I didn’t.

A couple of interesting quotes from this speech:

Great teaching is the centerpiece of a strong education; everything else revolves around it. This is the main finding of our foundation’s work in education over the past ten years.

I have to admit – that is not where we started. Our work in schools began with a focus on making high schools smaller, in the hope of improving relationships to drive down dropout rates and increase student achievement. Many of the schools we worked with made strong gains, but others were disappointing. The schools that made the biggest gains in achievement did more than make structural changes; they also improved teaching.

….

In 2008 and 2009, our foundation partnered with Scholastic on a national survey to learn the views of 40,000 teachers on crucial questions facing your profession.

Teachers said in huge numbers that they don’t get enough feedback. They’re not told how they can improve. They’re not given training that can address their weaknesses or help them share their strengths with others.

This has helped spark the movement for change. Teachers want to help set the expectations that they will be held accountable for. You want to be rewarded for results. You want better evaluations. You’re tired of subjective, infrequent evaluations by administrators who don’t know how to improve instruction – the people who come into your class and write ―Yes‖ or ―No‖ for things like: ―arrives on time‖ and ―maintains professional appearance.

But even fair and insightful teacher evaluations are not enough to improve student gains; they have to be tied to great professional development that is customized for each teacher. After all, the goal of evaluation is not to sort teachers into groups; it’s to help every teacher get better.

And what, exactly, is the Gates Foundation doing about American education?

The first of these projects addresses a big gap in our knowledge: There has been a lot of research done about the impact of effective teaching, but little research has been done on what makes teaching effective.

That’s the research we’re doing now with nearly 3,000 teachers in six school districts who have volunteered to open their classrooms to visitors, to video cameras, to new assessments, to watching themselves teach and talking about their practice. Many of these teachers are members of the AFT. I want to thank those of you who are here today for being part of this project.

The chief goal is to work with teachers – using technology, data and research – to develop a system of evaluation that teachers believe is fair and will help them improve.

Project teams record student gains on two assessments – one a state multiple choice test, the other a more open-ended, problem-solving test to make sure the test scores reflect real knowledge and not just test-taking skill.

They assess the learning atmosphere in the classroom – asking students if they agree with statements such as: ―If you don’t understand something, my teacher explains it another way.‖

The teams will watch more than 13,000 videos of classes this year and 13,000 more again next year. They’ll put special focus on classes that showed big student gains and try to map it backwards to identify the most effective teaching practices. They’ll also look for what doesn’t work. If a struggling new teacher comes to a veteran colleague and asks: ―What am I doing wrong?‖ he should get an evidence-based answer.

What I love about this speech most is the perspective that Mr. Gates is taking on this problem.  He’s not coming into the AFT and dictating to them what needs to be done; he’s inviting them in to be part of the solution, he’s listening to their concerns about current testing regimes, and he’s standing firm in the idea that good practices can be reverse-engineered and shared.

You hear more about that perspective in this video he did as part of NBC News Education Nation week.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

As I think about what goes into something that we might call Integral Education, the most glaring lack we seem to have today is simply the gathering of raw data around all of the objective and subjective factors that go into great teaching.  Without this data, we’re all just a bunch of philosophers (and I admit that I’ve bashed the teacher’s unions as hard as anyone out there) with no information to apply to our theories.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is doing a great service to the future of education in the United States, and the future of Integral Education, with the work they’re doing, and with the humility and perspective they’re bringing to it.  I’m excited to follow this work over the coming years, and to see it adopted around the country.

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