Skip to main content

Bill Gates: Invest in better teaching

By Bill Gates, Special to CNN
updated 3:33 PM EST, Wed January 30, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bill Gates says his foundation is focused on setting goals, measuring progress
  • To improve education, we need measures of teacher effectiveness, he says
  • Gates: It's worth spending what it takes for strong evaluation system
  • He says better measuring will empower teachers to do their best work

Editor's note: Bill Gates is co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Watch an interview with him Sunday on "Fareed Zakaria GPS" at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET.

(CNN) -- Today I released my annual letter. Each year, I reflect on what I learned in the last year through our travels and work with the foundation and how that will shape my thinking over the coming months. This year, my letter focuses on how important it is to set clear goals and measure progress in order to accomplish the foundation's priorities, both here at home and around the world.

Setting a clear goal lets you know what you're driving at: Picking the right interventions that will have the most impact on that final goal, using that information to understand what's working and what's not, and adapting your strategy as necessary. One of the clearest examples of the power of measurement was the work of our partners to support great teachers.

In the past few years, the quest to understand great teaching has been at the center of the public discussion about how to improve education in America. But for the country's 3 million teachers and 50 million schoolchildren, great teaching isn't an abstract policy issue. For teachers, understanding great teaching means the opportunity to receive feedback on the skills and techniques that can help them excel in their careers. For students, it means a better chance of graduating from high school ready for success in life.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



But what do we mean when we talk about great teaching? In my experience, the vast majority of teachers get zero feedback on how to improve.

That's because for decades, our schools have lacked the kinds of measurement tools that can drive meaningful change. Teachers have worked in isolation and been asked to improve with little or no feedback, while schools have struggled to create systems to provide feedback that's consistent, fair and reliable.

That's why the Gates Foundation supported the Measures of Effective Teaching, or MET, project. The project was an extraordinary, three-year collaboration between dozens of researchers and nearly 3,000 teacher volunteers from seven U.S. public school districts who opened their classrooms so we could study how to improve the way we measure and give feedback about great teaching.

Earlier this month, the MET project released its final findings. The report confirmed that it is possible to develop reliable measures that identify great teaching.

Gates: Underestimating new innovations
Bill Gates on world economy

The project also found that using multiple measures to understand a teacher's performance -- including classroom observations, student surveys and growth in student achievement -- provides a richer and more reliable picture of a teacher's strengths and areas for improvement than any one measure alone.

Some critics say a strong evaluation system costs too much. The foundation and others have estimated that it could cost between 1.5% and 2% of the overall budget for teacher compensation and benefits to implement a feedback and evaluation system based on multiple measures of teaching performance.

But such an investment in great teaching would be small compared to what is being spent now on professional development that too often shows little results. And if lessons learned from addressing equally complex challenges in other sectors are any guide, investing in a reliable system to measure and support effective teaching will pay rich dividends.

Knowing how to identify and measure great teaching is a huge step toward providing better feedback and support for teachers and building a better education system for all our children -- but it's just one step. The challenge now is to use this information to give teachers the tools, resources and support they need to do their best work.

As schools become better equipped to provide tailored, constructive support, teachers will become empowered to be students of their own teaching. Creating that kind of environment -- one that supports teachers' professional growth and better prepares students for life after high school -- is worth the investment.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Bill Gates.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:47 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 12:50 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
updated 3:38 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 04: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell walks the sidelines prior to the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field on September 4, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Martha Pease says the NFL commissioner shouldn't be judge and jury on player wrongdoing.
updated 5:22 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
It's time for a much needed public reckoning over U.S. use of torture, argues Donald P. Gregg.
updated 12:08 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Peter Bergen says UK officials know the identity of the man who killed U.S. journalists and a British aid worker.
updated 12:20 PM EDT, Sat September 13, 2014
Joe Torre and Esta Soler say much has been achieved since a landmark anti-violence law was passed.
updated 4:55 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
David Wheeler wonders: If Scotland votes to secede, can America take its place and rejoin England?
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Jane Stoever: Society must grapple with a culture in which 1 in 3 teen girls and women suffer partner violence.
updated 4:36 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
World-famous physicist Stephen Hawking recently said the world as we know it could be obliterated instantaneously. Meg Urry says fear not.
updated 6:11 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Bill Clinton's speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president in 1992 went through 22 drafts. But he always insisted on including a call to service.
updated 6:18 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Joe Amon asks: What turns a few cases of disease into thousands?
updated 1:21 PM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Sally Kohn says bombing ISIS will worsen instability in Iraq and strengthen radical ideology in terrorist groups.
updated 1:30 PM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Analysts weigh in on the president's plans for addressing the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
updated 9:27 AM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Artist Prune Nourry's project reinterprets the terracotta warriors in an exhibition about gender preference in China.
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
The Apple Watch is on its way. Jeff Yang asks: Are we ready to embrace wearables technology at last?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT