By Stephen Sawchuk
Of all the grants the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has made in teacher quality, observers tend to agree that the single most influential has been the $45 million Measures of Effective Teaching study.
Nearly all the researchers interviewed about the study praised its technical merits. But that hasn't silenced the criticism aimed at how the project was framed, how the findings were communicated, and whether the many states drawing on them to draft teacher-evaluation policies are doing so appropriately.
The study's core findings are that "value added" models, observations of teachers keyed to frameworks, and student survey results all, to an extent, predict which teachers help their students learn more. Combined into a single measure, they offer trade-offs of validity, stability, and cost.
One thread of criticism: The research made students' test scores paramount, said Bruce D. Baker, a professor in the graduate school of education at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.
The Gates Foundation and the research team set up "a research framework that really boxed them in," he said. "Throughout the course of these studies, it was always assumed that the validity check for anything and everything else was next year's value-added scores."
"It's difficult to write data up when they're controversial and you're not sure what to emphasize," said Susanna Loeb, a professor of education at Stanford University who was on the project's technical-advisory committee but didn't conduct any of the research. "I think there are a lot of interpretations about what the results mean. And the study doesn't tell you the effect of using any of these measures in teacher evaluation in practice."