VAMboozled!: The Gates Foundation’s Expensive ($335 Million) Teacher Evaluation Missteps

The header of an Education Week article released last week (click here) was that “[t]he Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s multi-million-dollar, multi-year effort aimed at making teachers more effective largely fell short of its goal to increase student achievement-including among low-income and minority students.”

An evaluation of Gates Foundation’s Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching initiative funded at $290 million, an extension of its Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project funded at $45 million, was the focus of this article. The MET project was lead by Thomas Kane(Professor of Education and Economics at Harvard, former leader of the MET project, and expert witness on the defendant’s side of the ongoing lawsuit supporting New Mexico’s MET project-esque statewide teacher evaluation system; see here and here), and both projects were primarily meant to hold teachers accountable using their students test scores via growth or value-added models (VAMs) and financial incentives. Both projects were tangentially meant to improve staffing, professional development opportunities, improve the retention of the teachers of “added value,” and ultimately lead to more-effective teaching and student achievement, especially in low-income schools and schools with higher relative proportions of racial minority students. The six-year evaluation of focus in this Education Week article was conducted by the RAND Corporation and the American Institutes for Research, and the evaluation was also funded by the Gates Foundation (click here for the evaluation report, see below for the full citation of this study).

Their key finding was that Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching district/school sites (see them listed here) implemented new measures of teaching effectiveness and modified personnel policies, but they did not achieve their goals for students.

Evaluators also found (see also here):

  • The sites succeeded in implementing measures of effectiveness to evaluate teachers and made use of the measures in a range of human-resource decisions.
  • Every site adopted an observation rubric that established a common understanding of effective teaching. Sites devoted considerable time and effort to train and certify classroom observers and to observe teachers on a regular basis.
  • Every site implemented a composite measure of teacher effectiveness that included scores from direct classroom observations of teaching and a measure of growth in student achievement.
  • Every site used the composite measure to varying degrees to make decisions about human resource matters, including recruitment, hiring, placement, tenure, dismissal, professional development, and compensation.

Overall, the initiative did not achieve its goals for student achievement or graduation, especially for low-income and racial minority students. With minor exceptions, student achievement, access to effective teaching, and dropout rates were also not dramatically better than they were for similar sites that did not participate in the intensive initiative.

Their recommendations were as follows (see also here):

  • Reformers should not underestimate the resistance that could arise if changes to teacher-evaluation systems have major negative consequences.
  • A near-exclusive focus on teacher evaluation systems such as these might be insufficient to improve student outcomes. Many other factors might also need to be addressed, ranging from early childhood education, to students’ social and emotional competencies, to the school learning environment, to family support. Dramatic improvement in outcomes, particularly for low-income and racial minority students, will likely require attention to many of these factors as well.
  • In change efforts such as these, it is important to measure the extent to which each of the new policies and procedures is implemented in order to understand how the specific elements of the reform relate to outcomes.

Reference:

Stecher, B. M., Holtzman, D. J., Garet, M. S., Hamilton, L. S., Engberg, J., Steiner, E. D., Robyn, A., Baird, M. D., Gutierrez, I. A., Peet, E. D., de los Reyes, I. B., Fronberg, K., Weinberger, G., Hunter, G. P., & Chambers, J. (2018). Improving teaching effectiveness: Final report. The Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching through 2015–2016. Santa Monica, CA: The RAND Corporation. Retrieved from https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR2242.html

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Audrey Amrein-Beardsley

Audrey Amrein-Beardsley, a former middle- and high-school mathematics teacher, received her Ph.D. in 2002 from Arizona State University in the Division of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies with an emphasis on Research Methods. Awarded tenure in 2010 as an ASU Presidential Exemplar, she is currently an Associate Professor in the...