The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has become a very influential force in shaping research in health and education policy over the past decade, both due to the large sums of money the foundation has spent funding research in these areas and because of the public influence that someone as successful as Bill Gates can have. (Disclaimer: I’ve worked on several projects which have received Gates funding.) In both the health and education fields, the Gates Foundation is focusing on the importance of being able to collect data and measure a program’s effectiveness. This is evidenced by the Gates Foundation’s annual letter to the public, which I recommend reading.
In the education arena, the Gates letter focuses on creating useful and reliable K-12 teacher feedback and evaluation systems. They have funded a project called Measures of Effective Teaching, which finds some evidence that it is possible to measure teacher effectiveness in a repeatable manner that can be used to help teachers improve. (A hat tip to my friend Trey Miller, who worked on the report.) To me, the important part of the MET report is that multiple measures of teacher effectiveness, including evaluations, observations, and student scores, need to be used when consider teaching effectiveness.
The Gates Foundation is also moving into performance measurement in higher education. I have been a part of one of Gates’s efforts in this arena—a project examining best practices in input-adjusted performance metrics. What this essentially means is that colleges should be judged based on some measure of their “value added” instead of the raw performance of their students. Last week, Bill Gates commented to a small group of journalists that college rankings are doing the exact opposite (as reported by Luisa Kroll of Forbes):
“The control metric shouldn’t be that kids aren’t so qualified. It should be whether colleges are doing their job to teach them. I bet there are community colleges and other colleges that do a good job in this area, but US News & World Report rankings pushes you away from that.”
The Forbes article goes on to mention that Gates would like to see metrics that focus on the performance of students from low-income families and the effectiveness of teacher education programs. Both of these measures are currently in progress, and are likely to continue moving forward given the Gates Foundation’s deep pockets and influence.