UPDATED: New Details On Bill Gates's $5 Billion Plan To Film, Measure Every Teacher

"We need a system that helps all our teachers be as good as the best."

Actors do it. Professional athletes do it. Now Bill Gates wants the country to spend $5 billion to overhaul the evaluation system for every teacher in every classroom in every district, including filming them in action.

The new system would include videotaped lessons, classroom observations by trained observers, student satisfaction surveys, and value-added calculations based on test scores.

Among all his foundation's educational initiatives for things like smaller schools and new technology, Gates has increasingly zeroed in on effective teaching as the key lever to improving education, as he discusses in an exclusive interview in Fast Company this month.

But how do you know effective teaching when you see it? Judging teachers by their students' test scores alone is crude and incomplete. In a talk he gave for a TED special on PBS to be aired May 7 (filmed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on April 4), Gates discussed the plan to measure teachers, its estimated $5 billion price tag, and the pilot program he funded--the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET)--conducted with 3,000 teachers in seven districts. They reported three years of findings in January on a teaching evaluation system that combines test scores, student evaluations, and classroom assessments, where teachers are graded by impartial observers.

The idea of reevaluating how we test teachers is spreading, but it remains controversial--even without the privacy issues involved in filming the classroom. "I know some teachers aren’t immediately comfortable with a camera in the classroom," Gates acknowledged, then said that could be overcome by allowing teachers to pick which lessons they want filmed--which would seem to undermine the validity of any findings.

Of the $5 billion price estimate, Gates said in his speech:

"That’s a big number. But to put it in perspective…it’s less than 2% of what we spend on teachers’ salaries and benefits.

The impact for teachers would be phenomenal. We would finally have a way to give them feedback—as well as the means to act on it. "

States and districts have already spent millions of dollars overhauling teacher evaluation systems, only to have districts rating 97, 98, or 100% of teachers as "satisfactory" or better.

In his talk, Gates emphasized the idea of using this feedback system to help teachers do their job better. "We need a system that helps all our teachers be as good as the best," he said. "Our teachers deserve better feedback." He clearly wants to be seen as a friend, not an enemy, of teachers. However, the MET project, at least, has done nothing to demonstrate that these evaluations can actually help teachers improve--rather than just weed out the good from the bad.

UPDATE, APRIL 25: This post has been updated to clarify that the $5 billion price tag refers to the entire teacher evaluation system, not just the cost to film teachers.
[Image: Flickr user woodleywonderworks]

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9 Comments

  • Guest

    People need to realize that it is very hard to watch your self on camera, if a teacher has a 6 hour class per day? Will they watch 6 hours of video everyday - I don't think so? Futhermore, I am strongly apposed on having children recorded in classrooms - we do not want a totalitarian state. Actors and Athletes, have very small footage like a scene or a run on the track? Not for classrooms where you have 6 hours per day of learning. I do not trust Bill Gates and his work, he has other agendas which do not benefit the human race.

  • Lowie94

    I don't think Bill Gates realizes that many PARENTS don't want their children to be filmed in the classroom.  As part of a self-directed effort to reflect on my own teaching (the National Board Certification process), I requested parent permission to videotape lessons in each of my six middle school classes.  Only one class gave me full approval; in each of the other five classes, a number of parents opted out and I had to alter my carefully planned seating arrangements (and therefore, perhaps, the overall effectiveness of the lesson) whenever we were filming in order to keep certain students out of view.

    I did learn a lot about my teaching by watching myself on tape, because I (and only I) knew precisely what was running through my own head during each moment on the tape.  I (and only I) knew exactly why I did or did not react in a certain manner to each discussion point or action taking place in the room.  I (and only I) could reflect on my own decision-making process and make meaningful judgments about it based on watching the tapes.  If any other individual were to watch one of my tapes, none of that vital information would be readily available and the tape would therefore be meaningless.  In fact, in order to even share a 15-minute video clip with the National Board evaluators, I was required first to write a 15-page paper conveying my own description, analysis, and reflection regarding that work. 

    Teachers don't need an eye-in-the-sky looking down on them from above.  In fact, please don't look down on us at all.  Look up to us.

  • kafkateach

    Is Bill Gates a luddite? There are already cameras in the classroom. They are in our students' pockets. You want to film teachers and give them feedback? OK. Take out a cellphone, film, post on Facebook or youtube and allow for comments. No need to spend $5 billion. Another dumb idea by Bill Gates. When are we going to stop listening to this man? 

  • Design Network North

    Don't fear the cameras kids! - it's more about conditioning kids to become part of Bill's brave new world than improving teachers performance.

  • Cindy

    Filming actors and athletes to provide feedback doesn't involve their audience. Even the best teachers will perform differently in a classroom of 40 compared to the same teacher in a classroom of 25.

  • Anthony cody

    The author writes:
    "However, the MET project, at least, has done nothing to demonstrate that
    these evaluations can actually help teachers improve--rather than just
    weed out the good from the bad."

    Actually, the MET project has NOT demonstrate that these evaluations are useful for weeding out bad teachers. The evaluations base a significant weight on test scores, and equate "good" teaching with increases in those scores. As we know very well, BAD teaching can also, unfortunately, raise test scores. Bad teaching includes eliminating or cutting back on non-tested subjects and test prep style instruction, both of which are commonplace in our schools now as a result of these "reforms."

  • Steve Terry

    The Gates Foundation's meaningful intent on trying to improve classroom achievement and raise math and science interest is leading the country down a path of collective shortsightedness.  Teaching to the "test" creates an educational environment that will force all K-12 districts to focus only on the "numbers," no matter the costs.  Additionally, "teaching to the test" creates a class of proficient, "non'thinkers", too.

  • Arnt

    ..places like Auschwitz-Birkenau was run and made possible by proficient non-thinkers.

  • Paul McConaughy

    Before implementing this "evaluation" system we need to return teaching to a profession, instead of a skilled trade, and allow teachers to practice at their best.