What Makes a Great Teacher? Finally, We’ve Got Some Answers

A groundbreaking study examines the best way to evaluate educators.

According to the Gates Foundation study, students have a place in teacher ratings. (Photo: PhotoAlto/Michele Constantini)
Jenny Inglee is a Los Angeles-based journalist and the Education Editor at TakePart.

The debate over how teachers should be evaluated has heated up in the last year.

Last fall in Chicago, contention over whether student test scores should be used to rate teachers was at the center of the teachers' strike. This month, the issue could cause New York City schools to lose $250 million in state funding.

The union and the district have until January 17 to agree on an evaluation system.

While opinions on the best way to go about this vary, a new Gates Foundation study may provide some answers.

More: Why I Embrace Teacher Evaluations: A Los Angeles Teacher Speaks Out

The Gates Foundation says that effective teaching can be measured, and they have some ideas on the best way to do this. Enlisting the help of 3,000 teachers and many experts, the $45 million Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project took place over three years.

The results concluded that a three-step approach is best. This includes: student test scores, classroom observations by multiple reviewers, and teacher evaluations from students.

The study found that test scores should count for 33 to 50 percent of the rating, and when it comes to classroom observations, this should be done by two different trained observers.

New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said, according to SchoolBook, that the report "outlines exactly what the city has sought for our teachers and students: a fair evaluation system that looks at many factors, like classroom observations and student achievement. The study shows that evaluation systems can help teachers grow and learn—which in turn helps our students succeed."

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten made a positive statement about the study. She said:

The Gates Foundation’s study makes clear that evaluation of teachers must start with genuine feedback, which means the days of haphazard or check-list observation of teachers must end. Just dropping by a teacher’s classroom and writing up an evaluation must be replaced with a more serious process that actually helps improve teacher practice and student learning."

Whether the study will make an impact has yet to be determined, but Eric Hanushek, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, predicts that it will. He said, "It gives a lot more weight to those who want to have combined measures of performance. Combined measures that include student test performance and other external evaluations."

How do you think teachers should be evaluated? Share your thoughts in comments.

Jenny is the Education Editor at TakePart. She has been writing for TakePart since 2009 and previously worked in film and television development. She has taught English in Vietnam and tutors homeless children in Los Angeles. Email Jenny | @jennyinglee | TakePart.com

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