Education Reform

Gates 'Effective Teaching' Initiative Delivers Few Benefits in Face of Failures

Gates Effective Teaching Initiative Delivers Few Benefits in Face of Failures 

A mammoth report by RAND and the American Institutes for Research laid out in excruciating detail the mix of outcomes for the "Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching" initiative, designed and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. There was no discernible change in the effectiveness of newly hired teachers; low-income and minority students didn't gain greater access to effective teachers; and there were no improvements in student outcomes, such as increased graduation rates. However, teachers did consider the professional development activities they participated in useful for improving learning outcomes; the newly developed evaluation measures were valid indicators of their effectiveness as teachers, especially where direct classroom observation took place; and the exit rate for less effective teachers increased over the course of the project.

The initiative began nine years ago when three city school districts and four charter school management organizations took on an experiment, as described by Allan Golston, Gates Foundation president for the U.S. Program: "If teachers were given more meaningful feedback and support to improve their craft, with increased pay and greater roles and responsibilities for teachers who earned tenure and with the most effective teachers being concentrated where they were needed most, would the overall number of effective teachers increase and help to improve student outcomes?"

The sites invested in new IT for creating and using the measures of effective teaching. They also changed human resources policies to align with or take advantage of newly developed teaching effectiveness measures, including those related to recruitment, hiring, placement and transfer; dismissal and tenure; professional development; and compensation and career opportunities.

The RAND and AIR researchers offered several possible reasons why the project failed to produce the "desired dramatic improvement in outcomes across all years." There may have been gaps in the implementation of key policies and practices; external factors may have come into play, such as state-level policy changes made during the initiative; the project may have needed more time for the effects to appear; and/or the hypothesis may have been off from the beginning.

Yet, there were some benefits. And those findings, the report suggested, offer "valuable lessons for districts and policymakers."

For example, most teachers and site leaders reported to the researchers that adoption of the "observation rubrics" helped to create a "shared understanding of the elements of effective teaching that fostered communication about instructional improvement." Also, most of the teachers surveyed used data from the teaching effectiveness measures to change their instruction. And most of the sites have chosen to maintain the information systems they developed for measuring the effectiveness of teaching.

In a recent blog article, Golston chose to look on the bright side, asserting that his organization by no means considered the project a waste of resources. "While it's important to acknowledge that the student outcomes are not what we hoped for, we learned a tremendous amount about what it takes to provide high-quality feedback to teachers based on evidence of classroom practice and what tradeoffs are involved in trying to do that consistently and fairly, district-wide."

Also, he noted, "certain schools recorded noticeable gains in student outcomes," such as reading scores of Pittsburgh high school students. And most of the districts continue to use the improved teacher evaluation as part of their regular practice for recruitment and hiring.

The next step, he added: to continue gathering data "on the impact of these systems and encourage the use of all of those tools that helped teachers improve their practice."

The 587-page "Improving Teaching Effectiveness" report is openly available on the RAND website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.