I know a lot of teachers. And while they’re all basically good people, I think they should all be working harder to revolutionize education. Both people in and outside of the system agree that there is plenty of room for improvement. Where should they start? What should they do?
If you want to reform education there’s only one guy you should be listening to. It’s not anyone in government, nor is it anyone who even works in education. In fact, this person is one of the most famous dropouts in history.
The man is Bill Gates, and his foundation is discussing some downright fascinating ways to revolutionize the way schools are ran. On the Gates Foundation website, a paper can be found called Identifying Effective Teachers Using Performance on The Job. The paper suggests making the following changes:
1. Reduce barriers to entry as teachers for those who don’t have traditional teaching education- If a college graduate has a demonstrated competence in a certain subject, give them an avenue so they can quickly become teachers. (i.e. greatly expand Teach for America) As teaching shortages in certain areas become more dire, this change will become a necessity.
3. Provide bonuses to teachers who are willing to teach in schools with a greater percentage of low income students- Let’s face it, being a teacher at an inner-city school is a much tougher job than at a private school in the nice part of town. They face students who have problems at home, parents who simply don’t care, students with language and learning issues, as well as a host of other problems that are associated with poverty.
This is why the paper recommends giving good teachers a bonus for teaching at these schools. These are the schools where good educators are needed the most. We’re naive to believe that good teachers will want to teach at these schools simply for the satisfaction of making a difference on the wrong side of the tracks. This is why we must pay them more for taking on a more challenging role.
4. Evaluate teachers using a mixture of test scores, parental input and administrator feedback- As stated above, school administrators have little motivation to give teachers bad feedback and even less incentive to make personnel changes based on this feedback. This is why the evaluation process must be completely changed.
The authors of the paper make the comparison of the teacher to the person working at a box factory. If the worker knows exactly when his boss is going to be coming around to check up on him, he may be able to fool the boss into thinking he’s a good box maker, when in reality he stinks. Nobody else at work gets evaluated like teachers do. It needs to be changed.
The first suggestion is to put video cameras in each classroom and the administrators use footage as part of their evaluation. Secondly, it turns out that parents are pretty good at identifying how effective their child’s teacher is. Parental input would be added as only part of the evaluation. Test scores would also remain as part of the evaluation, however less emphasis would be put on them.
5. Have a system in place to link students’ results with their teachers and reward districts who put these systems into place- The argument is that teachers aren’t being evaluated right because the school districts simply aren’t keeping enough data about their students. Once the data is being properly kept, identifying effective teachers becomes much easier.
Education hasn’t really been changed in the last 100 years. Sure, we have smart boards and computers and what not now, but the system is largely unchanged. There are some smart people working on this problem, it’s just a matter of them getting past the resistance of change.