Bill Gates’ $5 Billion Plan: Let’s Put a Camera in Every Classroom

The hope is to evaluate teachers more effectively, and provide them with useful feedback.

Bill Gates, gates foundation, teacher evaluations, education reform
Bill Gates has dedicated much of his time and resources to education reform in America. (Photo: Fairfax Media via Getty Images)
Jenny Inglee is a Los Angeles-based journalist and the Education Editor at TakePart.

The way public school teachers are evaluated is complicated—and highly controversial among educators.

In fact, two out of three teachers feel that the methods don't accurately capture what they do in their classrooms, according to a January report by the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Tying teacher performance to test scores is the main factor that has teachers up in arms. It was one of the main reasons teachers went on strike last year in Chicago and why educators in Seattle boycotted the MAP test earlier this year.

Instead of focusing so much attention on test scores, philanthropist Bill Gates has another idea.

How about spending $5 billion to put a video camera in every classroom in America?

Anya Kamenetz of Fast Company reports that in a TED Talks Education special airing on May 7 on PBS, we can expect to hear more about Gates' plan. Kamenetz writes that Gates "wants the country to spend $5 billion for every teacher in every classroom in every district to be filmed in action so they can be evaluated and, maybe, improve."

The philanthropist has dedicated resources in the last few years to identifying and developing effective teaching. His foundation funded the $45 million MET project designed to determine how to best identify and promote great teaching. They enlisted the help of 3,000 teachers and many experts to determine the best way to do this.

In regards to teacher evaluations, the MET project concluded that a three-step approach is best. This includes: student test scores, classroom observations by multiple reviewers, and teacher evaluations from students.

While we have yet to hear all the details of Gates' plan for filming teachers, his idea is already getting criticism. 

Nancy Flanagan, a former Michigan Teacher of the Year, explains on her Education Week blog why she feels this is cause for concern.

"You just don't know what you're seeing, until you have a conversation with the teacher and examine the students' work products or listen to their discussions," she wrote.

This isn't the first time installing video cameras as an evaluation tool has come to the table. In 2011, Wyoming lawmakers proposed placing video cameras in classrooms to evaluate performance.

As for the Gates Foundation, this idea has been brewing for quite some time. Thomas Kane, a professor of education and economics at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the director of the MET project, said in a 2011 interview with Education Next that there are a lot of advantages to having cameras in classrooms. He said:

One is it gives you a common piece of evidence to discuss with an instructional coach or supervisor. Second, it will prove to be economically much more viable because you’re not paying observers to drive around to various schools to do observations. If a teacher doesn’t think that their principal is giving them a fair evaluation because of some vendetta, they can have an external expert with no personal ax to grind watch and give feedback.

To hear more of what Bill Gates has to say about cameras in classrooms, tune in to TED Talks Education on May 7. Other influencial speakers include Geoffrey Canada, the CEO of Harlem Children's Zone, and educator and activist Sir Ken Robison.

Jenny is a Los Angeles-based journalist and the Education Editor at TakePart. She has taught English in Vietnam and tutors homeless children in Los Angeles. Email Jenny | @jennyinglee | TakePart.com

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