Dear Bill Gates

Dear Mr. Gates,

Thanks for all you do in ed reform.

In a Newsweek chat, you said:

It’s amazing to me that more has not been invested in looking at how does that good teacher calm that classroom?

I'm amazed, too! That's why I've spent my last 4 years, and about $2.4 million so far from generous donors (thank you!), on this work.

The truth is, our hotshot Orin-led team is really an R&D operation masquerading as a teacher residency. Heck, we just ran a randomized trial on the effect of teacher phone calls (to parents) and text messages (to kids) on...how calm the classroom is the very next day. Effect: big! We're all over this stuff.

You also said:

How does that good teacher keep the attention of all those kids?

Here, I'll quibble. Of the teachers who do manage to keep the kids' attention, only a fraction manage to generate effort from the kids. That's what you really want to know: how do teachers generate significant effort from kids?

[Yes, curriculum matters. Any kid effort is multiplied by some coefficient of the value of the assigned work. Glad your national curriculum standards effort is getting traction. (My brief opinion on that matter in the New York Times here). Hope you can keep the work moving along in the Boehner-led House.]

You also told Newsweek:

We need to measure what they (good teachers) do, and then have incentives for the other teachers to learn those things.

98% agree.

[A quibble with second point. It's not just incentives. Sometimes teachers want to do the right teacher moves; they just fail. This is quite similar to our golf games. You and I understand certain aspects of the golf swing, we have the incentives to do them, yet judging by our handicaps, we are sometimes unable to execute them.]

Yes, let's measure. You've made a great start with the $45 million MET project. Couldn't have picked a better guy than Tom Kane to run it.

But diversify! To my knowledge, your foundation doesn't have any other investments in teacher research.

Here are three to consider:

1. Bob Pianta, the dean of UVa's Ed School. He has a $15 million idea called "The Network for Evidence-Driven Improvements in Impacts of Teacher Preparation."

Collectively the network would conduct controlled studies that isolate effects of certain elements of the teacher preparation pipeline (timing, recruitment, features of selectivity, training experiences) that show a causal impact on student achievement.

2. Deborah Ball, the dean of UMich's Ed School, has a list of 88 "high-leverage practices" -- teacher moves -- that need to be tested. Do they really work? Her 44-page ppt is here.

3. Me, from the proposed Charles Sposato (pictured) Graduate School of Education. Ah, yes. Self promotion!

Our idea is more of a "cloud computing" approach to decoding the teacher genome. Yes, we're channeling Ray Ozzie.

The basic idea is you get 100 teacher prep programs, charter schools, and district schools to each run a single randomized trial each year on a teacher "move." Which "moves"? Ideas bubble up from researchers and schoolteachers alike.

The most promising from a single location move to "Phase 2" -- they get tested in a second location. The best then move to Phase 3 trial, spread over many locales. The results are codified in the New England Journal Of Medicine Teaching.

Several such proven teacher moves could then be combined into various "teaching cocktail" -- which then get tested for their effect on value-added gains.

It's the inverse of your MET project. MET runs regressions on moves that gain-generating teachers are already making. Our approach gets teachers to actually try a specific teaching move (including some which will presumably be surfaced by MET), and measures the effects.

Plus, if you invest in Charlottesville or Ann Arbor, you cannot find direct flights from Seattle if you want to visit. Compare to our Ed School -- we're in Boston, just a couple miles from Microsoft's research headquarters (and Tom Kane's house).

With best wishes, Mike Goldstein

*Oh yeah, you fly everywhere on a direct flight. Noted.