Actors do it. Professional athletes do it. Now Bill Gates wants the country to spend $5 billion for every teacher in every classroom in every district to be filmed in action so they can be evaluated and, maybe, improve.
Among all his foundation's educational initiatives for things like smaller schools and new technology, Gates has increasingly zeroed in on effective teaching as the key lever to improve education, as he discusses in an exclusive interview in Fast Company this month.
But how do you know effective teaching when you see it? Judging teachers by their students' test scores is crude and incomplete. In a talk he gave for a TED / PBS special to be aired May 7, Gates discussed a pilot program, the Measures of Effective Teaching, with 3,000 teachers in seven districts. They reported three years of findings in January on a teaching evaluation system that combines test scores, student evaluations, and classroom assessments, where teachers are graded by impartial observers.
The idea of reevaluating how we test teachers is spreading, but remains controversial--even without the privacy issues involved in filming the classroom. "I know some teachers aren’t immediately comfortable with a camera in the classroom," Gates acknowledged, then said that could be overcome by allowing teachers to pick which lessons they want filmed--which would seem to undermine the validity of any findings.
States and districts have already spent millions of dollars overhauling teacher evaluation systems, only to have districts rating 97, 98, or 100% of teachers as "satisfactory" or better.
In his talk, Gates emphasized the idea of using this feedback system to help teachers do their job better. "We need a system that helps all our teachers be as good as the best," he said. "Our teachers deserve better feedback." He clearly wants to be seen as a friend, not an enemy, of teachers. However, the MET project, at least, has done nothing to demonstrate that these evaluations can actually help teachers improve--rather than just weed out the good from the bad...
Let’s give credit where it is due: Google is not hiding its revolutionary ambitions. As its co-founder Larry Page put it in 2004, eventually its search function “will be included in people’s brains” so that “when you think about something and don’t really know much about it, you will automatically get information”.
Science fiction? The implant is a rhetorical flourish but Mr Page’s utopian project is not a distant dream. In reality, the implant does not have be connected to our brains. We carry it in our pockets – it’s called a smartphone.
So long as Google can interpret – and predict – our intentions, Mr Page’s vision of a continuous and frictionless information supply could be fulfilled. However, to realise this vision, Google needs a wealth of data about us. Knowing what we search for helps – but so does knowing about our movements, our surroundings, our daily routines and our favourite cat videos.
Some of this information has been collected through our browsers but in a messy, disaggregated form. Back in 1996, Google didn’t set out with a strategy for world domination. Its acquisition of services such as YouTube was driven by tactics more than strategy. While it was collecting a lot of data from its many services, from email to calendar, such data were kept in separate databases – which made the implant scenario hard to accomplish.
But there is another reason, of course – and it has to do with the Grand Implant Agenda: the more Google knows about us, the easier it can make predictions about what we want – or will want in the near future. Google Now, the company’s latest offering, is meant to do just that: by tracking our every email, appointment and social networking activity, it can predict where we need to be, when, and with whom. Perhaps, it might even order a car to drive us there – the whole point is to relieve us of active decision-making. The implant future is already here – it’s just not evenly resisted.
This week, data protection authorities from six European countries showed some such resistance when they announced an effort to investigate if Google’s policy violates their national privacy laws. This announcement follows several months of consultation – preceded by a letter that EU data regulators sent to Mr Page in October – which yielded little response from Google. The letter urged the company to disclose how it processes personal data in each service and to clarify why and how it combines data that come from its multiple services...
President Obama on Tuesday outlined a government-sponsored initiative to map the human brain, casting the proposal as a way to discover new cures for neurological disease and strengthen the economy.
“Ideas are what power our economy,” Obama said as he announced the proposal from the East Room of the White House. “When we invest in the best ideas before anybody else does, our businesses and our workers can make the best products and deliver the best services before anybody else.”
The project would use about $100 million in federal money over the next fiscal year to begin a long-term effort to better understand the brain. Those funds will be included in Obama’s budget proposal, scheduled for release next week, and would be combined with annual private-sector investments of roughly an equal amount.
Obama has spoken frequently during his presidency, including in his most recent State of the Union address, about using federal money in partnership with academia and business to foster projects with broader economic and social benefits. And the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative represents one of Obama’s most ambitious efforts to do so...