Edging toward Professionalism

Last week The Bill & Malinda Gates Foundation released initial findings from its Measures of Effective Teaching investigation — a much needed $45 million effort to determine which teachers are good or not, and why.

Last week The Bill & Malinda Gates Foundation released initial findings from its Measures of Effective Teaching investigation — a much needed $45 million effort to determine which teachers are good or not, and why.

As other research has found, the Gates investigators concluded that the value- added calculations of a teacher’s performance can fluctuate significantly but not enough to preclude the data from being used as part of a more comprehensive system of evaluation. (A position I’ve argued here since this blog’s inception.) As Education Week summed it up: “So far, the study…appears to support the notion, advocated by teachers’ unions and others, that evaluations should be based on multiple measures.”

Perhaps, most importantly, the initial findings revealed much stronger correlations between classroom conditions, teaching practices and student achievement.  Most notable were similarities in the predictive effect of teachers’ value-added histories and students’ perceptions of a teacher’s ability to challenge students with rigorous work

As the MET findings suggest, success in accurately identifying effective teachers will require erudite interpretation from those who know teaching and learning and the context in which practitioners teach. The researchers concluded that “reinventing the way we evaluate and develop teachers will eventually require new infrastructure” — using digital video as well as peer observations.

In determining who is an effective teacher, it’s time for classroom practitioners (and their unions) to take the lead in establishing and enforcing standards among their ranks and beginning to function more like professional guilds.

Dina Strasser, a TLN member from our virtual community, engaged in a lengthy conversation earlier this fall with a doctor-turned-teacher over what it might take for teaching to fully evolve as a profession. It makes for interesting reading.

Perhaps Vinnie Basile of Westminster 50 (Colorado) — a participant in the CTQ/TLN New Millennium Initiative — put it most clearly and simply:

Transforming the union into the professional guild is the central, unifying solution to many of the otherwise divided issues in education reform. It empowers teachers to take control of their own career paths, enforcing a set of standards that in many cases would far exceed the expectations of policymakers and the general public.

The MET research edges teaching toward professionalism by helping establish empirical links between what teachers do and how students learn — and why. But only teacher leaders can truly make sense of all of this data. And they are in the best position to ensure that the data are used to drive changes in everyday classroom realities and the improvements in the lives of students and their families and communities.