Of all the
teachers I had growing up, I think about Miss Marjorie the most. She was the hardcore
head teacher of McQuady Elementary, the poor grade school near where I grew up
in Falls of Rough, Kentucky. Miss Marjorie taught me hard work, how to treat my
peers, how to respect my elders and how to hold myself accountable.
when I got to college, I wasn’t ready.
realized later that what Miss Marjorie had been teaching me wasn’t going to get
me ready. She taught me how to diagram a sentence, but I didn’t know how to
write that sentence in an essay. I learned how to follow directions, but I
couldn’t find my way when I got lost.
bond I had with Miss Marjorie was the strongest I ever had with a teacher. I
would have done anything for her, and she would have done anything for me. But
we didn’t make the most of that bond because we didn’t have the tools. She
wasn’t supported with high standards or insightful teacher evaluations or
professional development to improve her practice.
should never feel they are alone. They should have the backing of a system that
supports excellence so they can teach their kids high standards and keep
getting better at it year after year.
the focus of our K-12
work at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
2008, we set out an education strategy that puts teachers at the center. If
every teacher is supported with the goals, skills and tools they need to keep
getting better, we can make dramatic breakthroughs in student achievement
across the country.
Wednesday, Bill Gates spoke at the U.S. Education Learning Forum in Bellevue, Washington,
and he recommitted the foundation to our strategy.
“I believe we are
on the right track,” he said. “Everything we’ve seen in the past seven years
tells us that the strategy we settled on in 2008 remains the best lever for
raising student achievement. Effective teachers raise student achievement, and
strong teacher feedback and improvement systems help create and support
When schools change standards and
curricula and instructional tools and evaluation systems, it takes time for
teachers and students to adjust. That’s why we believe that these new systems
shouldn’t yet be used to make high-stakes decisions, like what a teacher is
paid or whether a student graduates.
But as these
changes take hold, we’re already seeing bright spots across the country. In
Kentucky, ACT scores -- which are a good mark of being ready for college -- have
been rising for the past four years. Graduation rates have risen from 80
percent to 86 percent. In Denver, the percentage of kids who score over 21 on
the ACT has climbed from 16 to 24 percent. In Washington, DC, 4th
grade math students have outgained their peers in every state for six straight
What do these bright spots have
in common? These states and districts are all dedicated to supporting teachers --
and they all have teacher evaluation systems that are focused on helping
teachers improve in the classroom.
This commitment is especially strong
in Colorado, where the state has created a shared definition of excellent
teaching. It breaks down the crucial skills and describes clearly what the five
steps towards excellence look like in every one of those skills. It creates a
common language and gives teachers a clear guide to getting better.
One Colorado principal told us: “A few years
ago, we didn't even have agreement on what good teaching was. So when I was
doing an evaluation, I was just sitting in the classroom looking at the teacher
and trying to remember some of the research I read in college.”
When the principal used the new evaluation, one
teacher said it was the first time anyone ever told her how to get better, and
she had always wanted that guidance.
States and school districts are coming to see a crucial truth: Done right, teacher evaluation
and teacher development are the same thing!
Evaluation that’s not tied to development is a waste of time;
development that’s not tied to evaluation is a waste of money.
For too long, these two processes have been kept separate.
Evaluations told teachers whether or not they were “good,” but didn’t tell them
how to get better. Professional development has sucked up $15 billion a year without
targeting what individual teachers actually need.
Teacher development that costs less and delivers more is right inside the school building. No one knows teaching like teachers. No
one is more trusted by teachers than other
teachers. That’s why every school has the elements of a great teacher feedback
and improvement system under its own roof. Teachers can take the lead in
bringing these new systems to life. And
they should rightfully ask:
“How will this help me get better?”
We have always known that good schools help students learn –
but good schools also have to help teachers
learn. We know this. We’re on the right track. It’s time to pick up speed.
For more information about our
work, please check out two new publications in a series called Let’s Talk. The series is designed to share what we and
our partners have learned and what the implications of those lessons are for
the field. One piece is about the role
feedback, and support in getting kids ready for college. The other is on teachers.