A simple yet BIG point – “Teachers need real feedback” – @TedTalk by @BillGates

@ShridharShukla points us to this TED Talk by Bill Gates, which focuses on the fact that everybody needs a teacher/coach to improve, but the one group of people who don’t get a coach or any useful feedback is teachers.

Some excerpts from the transcript:

Until recently, over 98 percent of teachers just got one word of feedback: Satisfactory. If all my bridge coach ever told me was that I was “satisfactory,” I would have no hope of ever getting better

He is talking about the US. Are there countries who do better?

out of all the places that do better than the U.S. in reading, how many of them have a formal system for helping teachers improve? Eleven out of 14.

Here’s what Shanghai does:

Let’s look at the best academic performer: the province of Shanghai, China. Now, they rank number one across the board, in reading, math and science, and one of the keys to Shanghai’s incredible success is the way they help teachers keep improving. They made sure that younger teachers get a chance to watch master teachers at work. They have weekly study groups, where teachers get together and talk about what’s working. They even require each teacher to observe and give feedback to their colleagues

The Gates Foundation has been experimenting with a teacher feedback system:

What would that system look like? Well, to find out, our foundation has been working with 3,000 teachers in districts across the country on a project called Measures of Effective Teaching. We had observers watch videos of teachers in the classroom and rate how they did on a range of practices. For example, did they ask their students challenging questions? Did they find multiple ways to explain an idea? We also had students fill out surveys with questions like, “Does your teacher know when the class understands a lesson?” “Do you learn to correct your mistakes?”

Does this work?

And what we found is very exciting. First, the teachers who did well on these observations had far better student outcomes. So it tells us we’re asking the right questions. And second, teachers in the program told us that these videos and these surveys from the students were very helpful diagnostic tools, because they pointed to specific places where they can improve

Feedback isn’t the only thing. Suggestions for improvement must also be made:

Diagnosing areas where a teacher needs to improve is only half the battle. We also have to give them the tools they need to act on the diagnosis. If you learn that you need to improve the way you teach fractions, you should be able to watch a video of the best person in the world teaching fractions.

What about resistance from teachers?

So building this complete teacher feedback and improvement system won’t be easy. For example, I know some teachers aren’t immediately comfortable with the idea of a camera in the classroom. That’s understandable, but our experience with MET suggests that if teachers manage the process, if they collect video in their own classrooms, and they pick the lessons they want to submit, a lot of them will be eager to participate.

See the full video or read the transcript

Giving teachers in India bonuses for performance really works, says research

Alex Tabarrok has an interesting article on which points to a very large, randomized experiment by Karthik Muralidharan and others on giving teachers monetary incentives based on the performance of their students in specific subjects, and reports that this significantly improves performances in not only those subjects, but also in other subjects.

Here, it is important to note that we are talking about Indian Schools, run by the government, mostly in rural India. It is also important to note that this is not an armchair philosopher spouting opinions, but actually data from a large, randomized experiment with controls.

Here is some data that really needs to be shouted from the rooftops:

Students who had completed their entire five years of primary school education under the program scored 0.54 and 0.35 standard deviations (SD) higher than those in control schools in math and language tests respectively. These are large effects corresponding to approximately 20 and 14 percentile point improvements at the median of a normal distribution, and are larger than the effects found in most other education interventions in developing countries (see Dhaliwal et al. 2011).

Second, the results suggest that these test score gains represent genuine additions to human capital as opposed to reflecting only ‘teaching to the test’. Students in individual teacher incentive schools score significantly better on both non-repeat as well as repeat questions; on both multiple-choice and free-response questions; and on questions designed to test conceptual understanding as well as questions that could be answered through rote learning. Most importantly, these students also perform significantly better on subjects for which there were no incentives – scoring 0.52 SD and 0.30 SD higher than students in control schools on tests in science and social studies (though the bonuses were paid only for gains in math and language). There was also no differential attrition of students across treatment and control groups and no evidence to suggest any adverse consequences of the programs.

… Finally, our estimates suggest that the individual teacher bonus program was 15-20 times more cost effective at raising test scores than the default ‘education quality improvement’ policy of the Government of India, which is reducing class size from 40 to 30 students per teacher (Govt. of India, 2009).

Read the full article