Bill Gates spoke to the AFT on July 10th. Here is an excerpt of what he told the teachers:
Great teaching is the centerpiece of a strong education; everything else revolves around it. This is the main finding of our foundation’s work in education over the past ten years.
I have to admit – that is not where we started. Our work in schools began with a focus on making high schools smaller, in the hope of improving relationships to drive down dropout rates and increase student achievement.
Many of the schools we worked with made strong gains, but others were disappointing. The schools that made the biggest gains in achievement did more than make structural changes; they also improved teaching.
If great teaching is the most powerful point of leverage – how are we going to help more teachers become great?
In 2008 and 2009, our foundation partnered with Scholastic on a national survey to learn the views of 40,000 teachers on crucial questions facing your profession.
Teachers said in huge numbers that they don’t get enough feedback. They’re not told how they can improve.
When I was working in software, many times I would look at the computer code someone wrote and I’d say: “Oh, wow, this guy is good. That’s better than what I would have written. What process did he go through? How did he model it?” Whenever I found someone great, I would study how they worked. I looked at every factor that made that person successful.
This happens in a lot of fields.
Some of you may have read a book by Steven Jay Gould about baseball. Gould explains that in the 1920s and ’30s, there was a big gap between the highest and lowest batting averages. But over time, people learned from each other, the gap narrowed – and the average hitter today is much closer to the best hitter.
That’s an important mark of a profession: the difference between the average and the great becomes smaller – because everyone is eager to get better, and they’re doing everything they can to learn from the best. That trend improves the entire profession. But it requires a process: you have to identify the skills of the best and transfer them to everyone else.
That hasn’t been happening enough in teaching. And that give us a big opportunity.
This is the work our foundation is trying to foster in Pittsburgh, Hillsborough County, and other communities that have agreed to be part of two projects we’re funding: the Measures of Effective Teaching project, and our Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching.
The first of these projects addresses a big gap in our knowledge: There has been a lot of research done about the impact of effective teaching, but little research has been done on what makes teaching effective.
That’s the research we’re doing now with nearly 3,000 teachers in six school districts who have volunteered to open their classrooms to visitors, to video cameras, to new assessments, to watching themselves teach and talking about their practice. Many of these teachers are members of the AFT. I want to thank those of you who are here today for being part of this project.
They’ll put special focus on classes that showed big student gains and try to map it backwards to identify the most effective teaching practices. They’ll also look for what doesn’t work. If a struggling new teacher comes to a veteran colleague and asks: ―What am I doing wrong? – he should get an evidence-based answer.
Some years ago, if you wanted to watch a great teacher, you had to find one who was teaching in your building during the hour you had free. But today, every teacher should be able to watch great teachers – to see how a master in classroom management handles a disruptive student, or how a great geometry teacher makes a proof interesting. Even just watching your own class can offer huge insight. One teacher in Hillsborough County said: “It’s amazing how much you can learn when you just sit and watch yourself teach.”
No one can choose a world without change. We choose only whether we drive change or react to it.
If you want teachers unions to lead a revolution in American education, please remember: sometimes the most difficult act of leadership is not fighting the enemy; it’s telling your friends it’s time to change.