Last week, Bill Gates wrote an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal in which he explained how to solve the world’s biggest problems.
The article was titled, modestly, “My Plan to Fix the World’s Biggest Problems.”
The answer is simple: Measurement.
To prove his point in education, he pointed to the Eagle Valley High School, near Vail, Colorado. He said that the school adopted his recommendations about measuring teacher quality, and test scores went up.
Drawing input from 3,000 classroom teachers, the project highlighted several measures that schools should use to assess teacher performance, including test data, student surveys and assessments by trained evaluators. Over the course of a school year, each of Eagle County’s 470 teachers is evaluated three times and is observed in class at least nine times by master teachers, their principal and peers called mentor teachers.
The Eagle County evaluations are used to give a teacher not only a score but also specific feedback on areas to improve and ways to build on their strengths. In addition to one-on-one coaching, mentors and masters lead weekly group meetings in which teachers collaborate to spread their skills. Teachers are eligible for annual salary increases and bonuses based on the classroom observations and student achievement.
What he didn’t mention was another interesting and sad fact about the school.
Last May, it laid off its three foreign language teachers and replaced them with a computer program.
The school has money to pay bonuses, but apparently cannot afford to retain foreign language teachers.
One teacher had been in the school for 21 years and was four years away from retirement.
The community turned out to support her, but the board voted to dismiss her in the middle of Teacher Appreciation Week.
The board bought a foreign language teaching program. The students will have to pay $150 per semester to take the computer course.
Is this good education? Would they do that at Lakeside Academy in Seattle, where Bill Gates went to school?
Or would they boast of their foreign language department?