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Melinda Gates Exhibits the Royal We on NBC

by Susan Ohanian

Appearing on the NBC Today Show right after "Days of Our Lives Gets Revamped" and before
"Photos of a Young Marilyn Monroe Go to Auction," Melinda Gates confidently explained research that "nobody" had done on teacher effectiveness. Notice her use of "We" here:

  • WE set out to do this enormous piece of research. . . .

  • WE videoed. . .

  • WE said. . . .

  • WE learned. . . .

  • This sounds rather like the Queen Victoria royal use of "We."

    Brian Williams asks:

    You and your husband have always said this all comes
    back to a single relationship a student and a teacher. What have you
    learned about what makes a great teacher?

    Melinda Gates responds:

    Everybody says 'you can't just look at test scores at
    the end of the year, because there are so many factors, there's poverty
    and other things that go into this.' But nobody had done the research to
    say 'how do we know that a teacher's making a difference in a student's
    life?' So we set out to do this enormous piece of research. Three
    thousand teachers signed up in six different districts. We videoed the
    teachers, and we said 'at the end of the day, what is predictive of
    great teaching? What besides that test score?' And it turned out a
    teacher who's good one year is good usually in the second year. It
    turned out you could look at the test scores and see in terms of value
    added, how had they moved kids up in the system. But then you could also
    look at student perceptions. It turned out that student perceptions of a
    teacher were also predictive of how they would do at the end of the
    year and whether they learned all that material.

    Brian Williams: How do you keep that from becoming a popularity contest?

    Melinda Gates:

    We learned you have to have multiple measures of what
    make a great teacher. Right now teachers are observed by their
    principals at regular intervals. We need to have peer observations. But
    we need to know that the tool that we're using -- there are ten
    different tools for peer observations. But which ones actually predict
    whether the students learned the material at the end of the year? So we
    need to test the peer observations, and the principal observations, and
    we need to look at the scores at the end of the year, and we need to
    look at the student data. When you ask the students did you have an
    effective teacher, you ask specific questions, 'did the teacher help you
    when you didn't understand the homework, or what you missed on your
    homework? Did they go help you learn that? Did the teacher get a sense
    of when he or she didn't explain the information well, and help get your
    class on track? Did your teacher manage the classroom well? It turns
    out there are about six questions you can ask the students - not 'did
    you like the teacher,' but what they did in the classroom that actually
    measures and correlates to whether the test scores got better at the end
    of the year.

    Anthony Cody made some good points on his blog.

    Do you notice what is bothering me? Mrs. Gates
    begins by acknowledging that good teaching cannot be reduced to a test
    score -- or at least that this is often said. She then asserts that the
    half billion dollars they have spent on research in this area have
    uncovered a number of things that can be measured that allow us to
    predict which teachers will have the highest test scores. A great
    teacher is defined over and over again as one who made sure students
    "learned the material at the end of the year."

    If you look closely at how she describes peer observations, the
    method at work is even clearer. Teachers tend to support peer
    observation, because it can be a valuable basis for collaboration, which
    yields many benefits to us beyond possible test score gains. But what
    does Melinda Gates say about it? It can be worthwhile, BUT: only the
    models of peer observation that have been proven to raise test scores
    should be used. And presumably we can count on the Gates Foundation to
    provide us with that information.

    Test scores, test scores, test scores.

    Notice to Melinda Gates: Giving more tests does not equate with "multiple measures," a catch phrase you've obviously picked up from some so-called progressives.

    Throwing tons of money at the issue doesn't improve the lot of students. Everybody would be a lot better off if the Gates Foundation donated its billions to creating living wage jobs. Then the test scores they care so much about would rise.


    — Susan Ohanian comment on Melinda Gates
    NBC Today Show




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