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Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Setting the Record Straight About Cameras in the Classroom

May 14, 2013

A few blogs – including Ed Week’s “Reality Check” – have recently repeated a Fast Company story that mistakenly reported that Bill Gates wants to put a camera in every classroom. The piece (since corrected) covered the filming of a TED talk on effective teaching that Bill taped last month and that aired last week on PBS.

While the camera-in-every-classroom claim is simply not true, it is true that the Gates Foundation believes it is worth the investment to support school districts’ efforts to provide teachers with better, more useful feedback that can help them develop as professionals. This feedback includes multiple observations by trained observers, student surveys and students’ academic growth.

As Bill said in his TED talk, everyone can benefit from a coach, and unlike in many professions, teachers just don’t receive enough specific, constructive feedback about how they’re performing. In the absence of multiple reliable measures and the feedback they can provide, the vast majority of teachers are simply given perfunctory “satisfactory” ratings, robbing them of the opportunity to grow and improve. 

Research – including the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project, which the foundation funded – has shown that using multiple measures to understand a teacher’s performance provides a richer and more reliable picture of a teacher’s strengths and areas for improvement than any one measure alone. The study included the use of cameras in the classroom so that raters could view a large number of teachers delivering instruction, as well as feedback from student surveys and growth in student achievement. Taken together, these multiple measures can give schools the information they need to develop the kinds of substantive, personalized professional development programs that teachers want.

It’s true that many of the teachers who volunteered for the study found the videos useful but the purpose of the study was never to advocate for putting a camera in every classroom.  Groups of teachers on their own have used cell phones and tablets to capture footage of colleagues at work and then gather to discuss what works and what doesn’t. We think that’s an exciting use of technology but it’s far from the “big brother” approach erroneously ascribed to Bill Gates.


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