There’s an Op-Ed in today’s New York Times in which Joe Nocera discusses the Gates Foundation’s ambitious new efforts to crack the code of teacher assessment and evaluation, a valid goal is ever there was one. Piloting a new system in four districts — and providing local leaders with tens of millions of dollars to implement it — the Gates team seems to have recognized the limited value of test scores; in these communities, they comprise only a small part of a teacher’s evaluation scorecard. As Nocera writes, “The combination of peer review and principal review comprise 60 percent of the evaluation. And students are also asked questions aimed at eliciting how well their teachers are instructing them.” Significantly, Gates is also paying for a cadre of peer teachers, whose sole job is to work with classroom teachers and help them improve the quality of their practice.
Sounds great, right? And indeed, already this morning I’ve heard from friends and family who read the piece and wanted to confirm I shared their belief in the self-evident value of the Gates work. Except there’s something not quite right with this picture. You can locate it in the words of Thomas Kane, the Harvard education professor who advised the Gates Foundation as they gathered a wealth of data — from videotapes to in-person observations — to try and unlock the mystery of what makes some teachers so effective. All of that work, Kane says, was aimed at “identifying the practices that are associated with student achievement.”
There’s the rub.
If we really want to re-imagine education for the 21st century, the very first step is to recognize that student achievement — i.e., academic growth — is not the only goal we should have for our children (and, by extension, our teachers). Equally vital is a child’s social/emotional development, and to continue to give short-shrift to it is to misunderstand not just how people learn, but also the very way we see and interact with the world.
The world over, successful organizations and systems are aligned first and foremost around what they value, and the values then dictate what gets measured (including things that may not lend themselves to a metric at all), not the other way around. That’s why here in America, education reform will remain elusive until we clarify the type of growth — head, heart and hands — we value most in our children, our society, and our schools. And no amount of money will change that.