A sketch of the $500 million new Gates Foundation headquarters
Bill and Melinda Gates mentioned again in the Wall Street Journal the Measuring Effective Teachers (MET) project that their foundation is orchestrating. Bill and Melinda may want to check on the status of the MET research they’ve been touting since full results were promised in the spring of 2011 and have yet to be released.
Just to review… In an earlier interview with the Journal, MET was described as follows:
the Gates Foundation’s five-year, $335-million project examines whether aspects of effective teaching, classroom management, clear objectives, diagnosing and correcting common student errors can be systematically measured. The effort involves collecting and studying videos of more than 13,000 lessons taught by 3,000 elementary school teachers in seven urban school districts.
The motivation, re-iterated in the new piece by Bill and Melinda Gates is to identify what “works” in classroom teaching to develop systems that train and encourage other teachers to imitate those practices:
It may surprise you—it was certainly surprising to us—but the field of education doesn’t know very much at all about effective teaching. We have all known terrific teachers. You watch them at work for 10 minutes and you can tell how thoroughly they’ve mastered the craft. But nobody has been able to identify what, precisely, makes them so outstanding….
The intermediate goal of MET is to discover what we are able to measure that is predictive of student success. The end goal is to have a better sense of what makes teaching work so that school districts can start to hire, train and promote based on meaningful standards.
As I’ve argued before, using research to identify “best practices” in teaching only makes sense if the same teaching approaches would be desirable for the vast majority of teachers and students, regardless of the context. And as I’ve also suggested before, I don’t believe this effort is likely to yield much in education. Effective teaching is like effective parenting — it is highly dependent on the circumstances. Yes, there are some parenting (and teaching) techniques that are generally effective for almost everyone, but those are mostly known and already in use.
This doesn’t mean we are completely unable to measure effective teaching (or parenting). It just means that we have to judge it by the results and cannot easily make universal statements about the right methods for producing those results. To make a sports analogy, there is no single “best practice” for hitters in baseball. There are a variety of stances and swings. The best way to judge an effective hitter is by the results, not by the stance or swing. And if we tried to make all hitters stand and swing in the same way, we’d make a lot of them worse hitters.
It is because of this heterogeneity in effective teaching practices that I think the MET project is doomed to disappoint. And according to inside sources, I’ve heard that results are being delayed because they are failing to produce much of anything.
According to the MET web site, the full results for the 1st year should have been released in the spring:
In spring 2011, the project will release full results from the first year of the study, including predictors of teaching effectiveness and correlation with value-added assessments.
It is almost November and we have not seen these results. I understand that in very large and complicated projects, like MET, things can take much longer than originally planned. If so, it would be nice to hear that explanation. It would be even nicer if the Gates Foundation released results if they have them, even if those results were not what they had hoped they would find.
Some inquisitive reporters should start asking Gates officials and members of the research team about the status of the MET results. Reporters should go beyond talking to the media flacks at Gates HQ and actually talk to individual members of the team confidentially. If they do that, they may confirm what I have been hearing: MET results have been delayed because they aren’t panning out.
(UPDATE: Gates responds.