Among the myriad of techniques being discussed about the best ways to weed out bad teachers from our public school system, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, have utilized a quite, simple approach: Ask the students. The foundation’s two-year research project is comprised of social scientists and over 3,000 teachers and their students in select cities, such as Charlotte, Dallas, New York and Pittsburgh. Instead of focusing solely on state testing scores which is a ridiculously narrow means of tracking a teacher’s progress, this study goes straight to the heart of teaching. It asks students to answer questions about which teachers they learned from the most and report on daily procedures, including classroom management.
According to a report by NY Times, “Teachers whose students described them as skillful at maintaining classroom order, at focusing their instruction and at helping their charges learn from their mistakes are often the same teachers whose students learn the most in the course of a year, as measured by gains on standardized test scores.” This might be just the innovative type of tools and unique perspectives we need in today’s current state of public school education. The first reason I like this research is that it gives kids input, and allows them the unique opportunity to take an active part in their learning. It tells them that their opinions count, which is the first step towards real education, rather than mindless obedience and repetition.
Also, most kids can spot a good teacher from a bad teacher almost instantly. Children are a good judge of character and generally know when a teacher is organized, fair, and excels in their subject —and even more so when they don’t. Just listen in on some schoolyard conversations. Sooner or later, you will hear kids complain about who is not fair or who is not skilled in their subject.
You can bet that if Bill Gates is behind the research that it involves a lot more than just opinions. The research is part of the $335 million Gates Foundation effort to revamp the public schools systems. It is based on a “statistical method known as value-added modeling, which calculates how much each teacher has helped students learn based on changes in test scores from year to year.” The questions were developed by Harvard researcher Ronald Ferguson.
Coincidentally, researchers say that those teachers that were scored favorably by their students are by and large the same teachers that naturally boast higher student achievement statistics. They also report that teachers, who focus on teaching for the test with mind numbing, repetitive drills, were more likely to score lower.
Who scored highest? Teachers who explained their subject thoroughly, were consistent, and taught students to learn from their mistakes.
Sounds a lot like parenting to me.