What Will You Do with 5 Billion US Dollars?

Five billion (5,000,000,000) dollars - this is surely a lot of money. Yes, it is still less than the budget of the Department of Education in the Philippines for 2013 (290 billion pesos). The annual budget of a country's basic education program of course includes not only reform measures but the day-to-day needs of schools like teachers' and other personnel salaries, classrooms, textbooks, maintenance, and others. To spend billions of dollars on a project that addresses one specific factor in education requires careful analysis even if the money is coming from a private source. With a large sum of money, the effects may be quite dramatic. Even with a philanthropic spirit, no one should donate a large sum of money for something that may in fact harm society.

Bill Gates has been paying close attention to the state of public school education in the United States and other countries. Gates' recent efforts center on identifying and developing effective teaching. Quite frankly, his efforts have been more focused on the "identifying" part at the moment. Tens of millions of dollars have already been spent in finding and testing ways to evaluate teaching. And the 5 billion number is apparently for installing cameras in classrooms.

Photo downloaded from Holmes Education Post's "Is it time to place cameras in the classroom?"
Takepart.com recently reports on "Bill Gates’ $5 Billion Plan: Let’s Put a Camera in Every Classroom":
As for the Gates Foundation, this idea has been brewing for quite some time. Thomas Kane, a professor of education and economics at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the director of the MET project, said in a 2011 interview with Education Next that there are a lot of advantages to having cameras in classrooms. He said:
One is it gives you a common piece of evidence to discuss with an instructional coach or supervisor. Second, it will prove to be economically much more viable because you’re not paying observers to drive around to various schools to do observations. If a teacher doesn’t think that their principal is giving them a fair evaluation because of some vendetta, they can have an external expert with no personal ax to grind watch and give feedback.
It seems that Bill Gates is ignoring that about two years ago, the state senate of Wyoming rejected a proposed bill that would install cameras in classrooms to evaluate teachers (Wyoming News):
The state Senate rejected a bill Wednesday to install cameras in classrooms to evaluate teachers. Senate File 114 failed 23-6 Wednesday, with one senator excused, after its first hearing on the floor.
Bill Gates' new plan does address some of the major objections heard inside the Wyoming senate. One of the strongest opposition is directed against having these recordings unannounced. 

Lisa Carey's "Cameras in Classrooms: Protection and Parenting Involvement or Invasion of Privacy?" cites the National Education Association:
"Monitoring and Observation of Teacher. . . All monitoring or observation of the work performance of a teacher shall be conducted openly and with full knowledge of the teacher. The use of eavesdropping, public address, audio systems, and similar surveillance devices shall be strictly prohibited. No mechanical or electronic device shall be installed in any classroom or brought in on a temporary basis which would allow a person to be able to listen or record the procedures in any class."
If the objective of recording lectures is to share effective teaching practices, there is already an organization in the US that does this. It is called the "TeachingChannel":
Teaching Channel is a video showcase—on the Internet and TV—of inspiring and effective teaching practices in America's schools. We have a rapidly growing community of registered members who trade ideas and share inspiration from each other...

...Our videos are produced by a unique team of professionals—a collaborative effort between video production experts, education advisors, and the classroom teachers themselves. We should point out that Teaching Channel does not determine or influence the content taught in our videos.

Our video library offers educators a wide range of subjects for grades K-12. The videos also include information on alignment with Common Core State Standards and ancillary material for teachers to use in their own classrooms. 
Teaching Channel Presents, a weekly one-hour program featuring Tch videos, airs on PBS stations in nearly 75 million homes across the United States.

A non-profit organization, Teaching Channel launched publicly in June 2011.
If the objective of recording lectures is to evaluate teachers, this is an entirely different action. First, one must distinguish between two approaches that at first, may look compatible, but are in fact may be working against each other.

Weeding bad teachers out of a school system
versus
Attracting talent to the teaching profession

It is true that good and effective teachers do not want to be associated with bad and ineffective ones. It is true that the teaching profession can be improved by promoting good practices and discouraging those that do not work. However, one must be thoughtful in the means employed. Putting cameras inside a classroom will discourage further talented students from choosing a teaching career. Surveillance does not make the teaching profession attractive. 

The second equally important issue is whether capturing in video a lecture is really an effective method of evaluating teaching. The answer is "no". What happens inside a classroom for a particular day has a history. Teachers develop relationships with students as the school year runs. Teachers get to know the students. Thus, teaching is not a "dog and pony show". Effective teaching is alive. It is a conversation. If one suddenly eavesdrop on a conversation without the proper context and background, a lot of misunderstanding can occur. This is not proper evaluation. At Georgetown, we participate in peer review of teaching. Each faculty member attends a lecture of another. This is done in person. The review also goes through materials that are relevant in the course and some would even interview students. But we are all aware that this is a very incomplete snapshot of what is actually going on. 

Teaching is very dynamic and those who teach well normally do not go with a rehearsed plan. Instead, from a variety of experiences and student-specific knowledge, a teacher enters a classroom with a plan B, a plan C, a plan D, etc. How can one really capture all of these on an hour video viewed remotely? Depending on remote surveillance to evaluate teaching clearly does not understand what teaching is about. 

Clearly, there are better and more importantly, respectful ways of spending 5 billion dollars to help basic education.






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