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Gates Advances 5 Districts' Teacher-Effectiveness Bids

The wires are buzzing with news of the Gates Foundation's decision to advance five districts' teacher-effectiveness plans, part of the foundation's commitment to putting $500 million into researching the question of how to measure and promote teacher effectiveness.

The districts are Memphis, Tenn.; Pittsburgh; Hillsborough County, Fla.; Omaha, Neb.; and a coalition of charter-management organizations in Los Angeles.

About 10 districts were approached by the foundation to submit proposals for the project, which has been informally referred to by Gates as its "Deep Dives" into teacher effectiveness. Now, the five that have made this cut must put together a Memorandum of Understanding involving various stakeholders, such as teachers' unions and community officials, as a good-faith sign that they have seriously committed to doing the hard work if they receive the Gates backing.

Although Gates hasn't made the proposals public, bits and pieces have been leaking out. In any case, it's probably safe to assume that the project will at the very least require districts to overhaul their professional-development and teacher-evaluation systems, and might even contain pay reforms.

(I'm told that the term "deep dive" will be replaced with something along the lines of "Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching," which, though less succinct, probably wisely avoids Jacques Cousteau imagery.)

Gates won't make the final decisions about which districts' proposals to pursue until November. It could choose to proceed with all five, spokesman Chris Williams told me.

And things aren't over for districts that didn't make the cut: The foundation was so impressed by the caliber of their proposals that it plans to underwrite select elements of them in the future, in what it will call "acceleration" grants.

Gates' newfound focus on teacher effectiveness actually predated the federal stimulus "assurance" on teacher quality and the Race to the Top proposed application guidelines, which vaulted the topic into national prominence.

In other words, you can bet everyone will be poring over the foundation's final choices.

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