Dartmouth Professor Works with Gates Foundation on Effective Teaching Project

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K-12 education remains a top discussion point across the country. From parents to school administrators, what everyone wants to know is: What makes teaching work?

Douglas Staiger, the John French Professor of Economics, is helping to answer that question.

Professor of Economics Douglas Staiger

Professor Douglas Staiger is part of the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project, a national effort supported by the Gates Foundation. “I expect our findings will have a major impact on education policy and practice,” says Staiger. (photo by Joseph Mehling ’69)

Staiger is working with a group of researchers from across the nation who are collecting and analyzing data that may unlock the secret to what makes an effective teacher. The study’s preliminary results were released December 10, 2010. A summary can be found at the program’s website.

“Interest in teaching effectiveness has exploded in the last few years,” says Staiger. “With comprehensive information on nearly 3,000 teachers and their classrooms, this project will provide school districts and policy makers with a wealth of information on what works in the classroom and how to identify effective teaching.”

The goal of the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project is to help build fair and reliable systems for teacher observation and feedback to help teachers improve and administrators make better personnel decisions. The project is collecting and evaluating the following measures of teacher performance:

  • Students’ performance on standardized state and supplemental assessments
  • Video-based classroom observation and teachers’ reflections on these lessons
  • Teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge—an assessment of a teacher’s ability to recognize and diagnose students’ misunderstandings of the lessons
  • Students’ perceptions of the instructional environment in the classroom
  • Teachers’ perceptions of the working conditions and instructional support at their schools

Staiger is working with researchers at RAND Corporation on the statistical analysis. “My role on this project is to determine how each measure relates to student learning gains and to combine data from each of the MET Project measures into a composite indicator of effective teaching,” says Staiger. “In this preliminary report, we found that learning gains were strongly related to student perceptions of the teacher’s ability to control a classroom and to challenge students with rigorous work. Future reports will use the video and other measures to identify additional classroom practices related to effective teaching.”

Thousands of teachers, all with the support of their respective unions, volunteered to participate in the project, which began during the 2009–10 and 2010–11 school years. It involves teachers and their students in math and English language arts courses in fourth through eighth grades, algebra I at the high school level, biology or its equivalent at the high school level, and ninth grade English.

The teachers represent seven predominantly urban school districts in Charlotte/Mecklenburg County, N.C.; Dallas, Texas; Denver, Colo.; Tampa/St. Petersburg, Fla.; Memphis, Tenn.; New York City; and Pittsburg, Pa.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is funding the cost of the project. There are no additional costs to cities or school districts.

In spring 2011, the project will release full results from the first year of the study, including predictors of teaching effectiveness and the correlation of classroom practice with student learning gains.

With the federal No Child Left Behind Act up for reauthorization and many school districts eager to implement more rigorous teacher evaluation, Staiger thinks that there will be considerable interest in these preliminary results and in future reports produced by the MET project.

“The timing couldn’t be better for this project, and I expect our findings will have a major impact on education policy and practice” says Staiger.

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