How do you find an effective teacher? Ask a kid

By Donna Gordon Blankinship
Associated Press / December 10, 2010

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SEATTLE—Adults may be a little surprised by some of the preliminary findings of new research on what makes a great teacher.

How do you find the most effective teachers? Ask your kids. That's one of four main conclusions of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and its research partners after the first year of its Measures of Effective Teaching Project.

Preliminary results of the study were posted online Friday; a more complete report is expected in April, according to the foundation.

The foundation aims to build a fair and reliable system of teacher evaluation and feedback to help teachers improve their craft and assist school administrators in their personnel decisions.

The report credits some of the top names in educational research across the nation and the work is paid for by the Gates Foundation but includes voices, ideas and analysis from top universities, nonprofit organizations and educational consultants.

Researchers have collected digital videos of more than 13,000 lessons in classrooms of teachers who volunteered to be studied. They asked students to report their perceptions of each teacher's class, and students also took an extra test to supplement the scores already gathered on their statewide achievement tests.

The classrooms being studied in grades four through eight are in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the Dallas Independent School District, Denver Public Schools, Hillsborough County Public Schools in Tampa and St. Petersburg, Fla., Memphis City Schools, The New York City Department of Education and Pittsburgh Public Schools.

The first four conclusions of the study are as follows:

--The average student knows effective teaching when he or she experiences it.

--In every grade and every subject, a teacher's past success in raising student achievement on state tests is one of the strongest predictors of his or her ability to do so again.

--The teachers with the highest value-added scores on state tests, which show improvement by individual students during the time they were in their classroom, are also the teachers who do the best job helping their students understand math concepts or demonstrate reading comprehension through writing.

--Valid feedback does not need to come from test scores alone. Other data can give teachers the information they need to improve, including student opinions of how organized and effective a teacher is.

The videos and widespread classroom research make up one part of the Gates Foundation's five year teacher effectiveness project. The other part involves a small group of school districts experimenting with some new ways of assessing and improving teachers.

Those districts will focus on teacher training, putting the best teachers in the most challenging classrooms, giving the best teachers new roles as mentors and coaches while keeping them in front of children, making tenure a meaningful milestone, getting rid of ineffective teachers, and using money to motivate people and schools to move toward these goals.

"It really is about an effective teacher for every student every year of their school career," said Vicki Phillips, director of the foundation's K-12 education program. "If we did that, we would make the kind of progress that we have all long dreamed about in this country."



Measures of Effective Teaching Project: