Teaching Profession

Teacher-Evaluation Efforts Haven’t Shown Results, Say Bill and Melinda Gates

By Brenda Iasevoli — February 15, 2018 2 min read
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Bill and Melinda Gates have poured their fortune into, among other things, the push for common standards, small schools, and efforts to overhaul teacher evaluations. Reflecting on these funding initiatives in a recent interview with the Associated Press, the billionaire husband and wife team admit they haven’t worked.

“It’s in taking all of those lessons and saying, ‘OK, but did they reach the majority of the school districts? Did they scale and change the system for low-income and minority kids writ large, at scale?’ And the answer when we looked at it, it was no,” Melinda Gates told the AP.

The two have acknowledged missteps before, most recently with the Common Core State Standards. As Liana Heitin (now Loewus) reported in May of 2016, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation acknowledged having underestimated the amount of resources and support public schools would need to incorporate the standards.

But the admission that the push for tougher teacher evaluations—including tying student test scores to teacher performance—has fallen flat is notable considering the contentiousness of the debate over how to judge teacher quality, and how influential the Gates Foundation has been in shaping that realm over the last decade.

In the foundation’s annual letter, Bill Gates addresses the group’s work to improve teacher observations and evaluations, saying that the effort didn’t have the impact he had hoped for. He says the effect on student learning “was mixed,” but he doesn’t appear to doubt the evaluation systems, just the way they were carried out. He points out that the pilot evaluations were not put into practice consistently in all places and that while some districts, Memphis for instance, continued with the evaluations, while others did not.

“Although most educators agree that teachers deserve more-useful feedback, not enough districts are making the necessary investments and systemic changes to deliver it,” he writes in the letter.

Investments Have Ended

The Gates Foundation ended its huge investment in teacher evaluations last October, as Heitin reported in this Teacher Beat blog post. Between about 2008 and 2013, the group spent $700 million in grantmaking toward its teacher agenda. That included about $45 million for its multi-year Measures of Effective Teaching study, which examined different ways of rating teacher effectiveness, including by using student test scores.

In the end, Heitin concludes the foundation’s pulling of its support for teacher evaluations won’t have much of an effect considering that a majority of states already have laws requiring the kinds of evaluations Gates was championing. A handful of states are backing away from using test scores in evaluations—but that’s because they have more flexibility to do so now under the new federal education law (not because Gates pulled funding).

So where does the Gates Foundation go from here? Nearly two-thirds of a $1.7 billion pledge will go to networks of middle and high schools to scale-up best practices, and into improved curricula that match state standards for student learning, as Stephen Sawchuk reported in this Education Week article.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.