Gates' Teacher Effectiveness Initiative Fell Short, Study Finds

Gates' Teacher Effectiveness Initiative Fell Short, Study Finds

A $575 million initiative designed and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to improve teacher effectiveness failed to measurably boost student achievement, an evaluation by the RAND Corporation and American Institutes for Research finds.

Launched in 2009, the multiyear Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching (IP) initiative was aimed at improving student outcomes by increasing access to effective teaching. With a focus on low-income and minority (LIM) students, pilot sites adopted measures of teaching effectiveness designed to assess both a teacher's classroom practices and his/her contributions to improvements in student achievement — assessments that would then be used to identify weaknesses, address those weaknesses, and create compensation and career-ladder incentives to retain the most effective teachers. Through 2016, the Gates Foundation invested $212 million across seven sites — Hillsborough County Public Schools in Florida, Memphis City Schools (which merged with Shelby County Schools during the grant period), Pittsburgh Public Schools, and College-Ready Promise (now called Ensemble Learning), a coalition of four charter management organizations in California — with school districts and CMOs funding the rest.

The evaluation, Improving Teaching Effectiveness: Final Report (587 pages, PDF), found that while the sites succeeded in implementing new measures of effectiveness and used them to inform a range of personnel decisions, the initiative did not lead to an overall improvement in student achievement or graduation rates. Although interim evaluations as of 2013-14 had found small improvements in grades 3 through 8 reading scores at some schools, the final report concludes that, as of the spring of 2015, the initiative had had no significant impact on students' reading or math outcomes.

"Overall, the initiative did not achieve its stated goals for students, particularly LIM students," the report's authors note. "By the end of 2014-2015, student outcomes were not dramatically better than outcomes in similar sites that did not participate in the IP initiative. Furthermore, in the sites where these analyses could be conducted, we did not find improvement in the effectiveness of newly hired teachers relative to experienced teachers; we found very few instances of improvement in the effectiveness of the teaching force overall; we found no evidence that LIM students had greater access than non-LIM students to effective teaching; and we found no increase in the retention of effective teachers, although we did find declines in the retention of ineffective teachers in most sites."

While various factors could have contributed to the initiative's failure to produce the expected improvements, the report's authors note that teachers' resistance to the use of effectiveness measures in tenure and dismissal decisions should not be underestimated. The report also suggests that dramatically improving student outcomes may require addressing factors beyond teacher effectiveness such as the availability of quality early childhood education, students' social and emotional competencies, a school's learning environment, and family support, or lack thereof.

"The IP initiative might have failed to achieve its goals," the report notes, "because it succeeded more at measuring teaching effectiveness than at using the information to improve student outcomes."

"Improving Teaching Effectiveness: Final Report." RAND Corporation Report Summary 06/21/2018. "Improving Teaching Effectiveness: Final Report." RAND Corporation Report 06/21/2018.