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Researchers to Probe Teaching

Project Will Videotape, Analyze Practice in Partner Districts

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The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will embark this fall on an ambitious research effort to analyze—and provide some initial answers to—a perennially vexing question in education: What are the best indicators of excellent teaching?

The foundation’s research partners intend to videotape and examine the teaching practices of 4,000 teachers in New York City, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., and several other yet-to-be named districts, to arrive at an understanding of the correlation between those practices and student learning.

In addition, the foundation will look at the relationship between student achievement and pupils’ perceptions of their instructors’ effectiveness; teachers’ content knowledge and ability to find the right pedagogical tools to teach that content; and “value added” estimates of teacher effectiveness based on test scores.

The research agenda makes up a component of the foundation’s five-year, $500 million push to define and promote effective teaching practices, and will help shape its approach to the teacher-effectiveness plans it intends to underwrite this fall. ("Finalists to Vie For Grants On Teaching," Aug. 26, 2009.)

Among its other education philanthropy, the Seattle-based foundation provides grant support for Education Week.

The research project will occur alongside Gates’ “intensive partnerships for teacher effectiveness”—plans to retool recruitment, professional development, pay, and evaluation structures in selected districts. Four districts, and one consortium of charter schools, are finalists for that funding. The foundation will unveil its decisions in November. It will invite teachers in some of those districts, in addition to New York and Charlotte, to take part in the research. The work in the selected sites will be done with the blessing of local leaders, educators, and teachers’ unions.

Gates officials could not provide an estimate of the overall amount they will spend on the research, but say the figure will be in the tens of millions of dollars. New York City will receive a $2.6 million grant to participate, while Charlotte-Mecklenburg is poised to receive $1.4 million.

Vol. 29, Issue 03, Page 4

Published in Print: September 16, 2009, as Researchers to Probe Teaching
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