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In Response to Bill Gates on Evaluating Teachers

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An April 4, 2013, Washington Post op-ed by Bill Gates addressed " A fairer way to evaluate teachers." Following is a response to the points he raised:

Mr. Gates begins with a sports analogy about Tom Brady, pointing out that the top NFL quarterback's slow foot speed was only one way to evaluate his talent. Had that been the only criteria used in selecting their quarterback, the New England Patriots may have missed out on three Super Bowl victories. This analogy struck home for two reasons. First was the illustration it provided of how important it is that we use multiple measures to evaluate teachers. Second, I have a nephew, B.J. Coleman, who was drafted as a quarterback by the Green Bay Packers, and I can attest to the intense evaluation of his talent using multiple measures.

I totally agree that multiple measures must be used when evaluating teachers. These measures should include such items as student surveys, principal observations, peer observations, student progress and others. I suggest we take this approach a step further. Professional football prospects are willing to subject themselves to intense multi-measurements because the financial rewards of being selected are definitely worth it. When we are able to pay teachers a professional wage I believe we can be much more intense in our selection processes.

Mr. Gates also provided examples of schools developing tests in subjects beyond those included in state assessments. I agree that this practice is ill-conceived. In Kentucky we are looking at developing SMART goals in these areas instead of trying to develop tests, and I believe that is the right way to go. We must use some common sense as we move forward.

"Efforts are being made to define effective teaching and give teachers the support they need to be as effective as possible," Mr. Gates wrote. Efforts in Kentucky provide examples. The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence has been working with a Team on Effective Teaching during the last year. This group, which includes a strong teacher voice, has been studying the teaching profession and what is needed to help teachers become as effective as possible. It is so important that this type of work move forward across the country, with a focus on the big picture.

Also, Kentucky has moved slowly in the development of a teacher evaluation system, seeking and incorporating input from representatives from all stakeholder groups, knowing that by going slowly now we can move quickly later. A critical issue raised in the op-ed is having teachers involved in the development of the evaluation systems. "Teachers want to be held accountable for their students" is totally correct. It is much better to be thoughtful and do things right the first time than to rush ahead making rash decisions. Many lessons can be learned from states that have moved too fast. An advocacy group from Tennessee, SCORE, has done some great work in sharing these lessons.

Kentucky's statewide Teacher Evaluation Steering Committee, created by the state Department of Education, has been meeting for more than two years, learning new ideas and studying feedback from Kentucky educators as the state builds a new growth and effectiveness system step by careful step. Throughout the process, the commitment has been to do this work with teachers. This fall will mark the beginning of a statewide pilot, with full implementation scheduled for 2014-15. Again, our hope is that by going slowly on the design, it will prepare us to go faster on strengthening the work in all our classrooms.

Evaluation systems, when done well, can have a very positive impact on effective teaching and, when done poorly, be very negative. I would encourage all advocates to study the results from the M.E.T. research on evaluations and talk with your state leaders about ensuring that multiple measures are always used. It is also critically important that we advocate to have stakeholders at these tables.

Finally, I want to thank Bill Gates for his support of the education of our children. Whether or not you agree with him on everything, it is undeniable that this is a person who is standing up to try to help, something he does not have to do.

Follow Stu Silberman on Twitter at https://twitter.com/login/stusilbermanfc

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