A year ago, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation selected Memphis City Schools to receive $90 million, over several years, to fund a number of programs around teacher effectiveness.
Last week, Bill and Melinda Gates visited Hamilton and Ridgeway high schools.
"To hear how the community is coming together is quite something," Melinda Gates said. "You have all the partners coming together and saying this is about the students."
Globally, the Gates Foundation works to alleviate poverty and improve health care. In this country, the foundation's primary focus is the public education system.
"I was surprised when we got into education how little was known about effective teaching," Bill Gates said. "Years of experience, various degrees — it doesn't explain the differences [between teachers]."
In Memphis, the bulk of the Gates money is being used to implement reforms through the district's Teacher Effectiveness Initiative, which includes hiring teachers earlier in the year, giving new teachers more support, and providing incentives to keep the best teachers in the classrooms that need them the most.
But the remainder of the grant money Memphis received is part of a nationwide effort by the Gates Foundation to discern what makes an effective teacher. At Ridgeway, Bill and Melinda Gates talked to teachers who had volunteered for the district's Measure of Effective Teaching (MET) initiative, which observes teachers through video cameras in each classroom.
"There are lots of great teachers out there," Bill Gates said. "What we haven't done is identify what effective teachers are doing and spreading that to others."
About 450 MCS teachers have volunteered for the MET project, and Superintendent Kriner Cash says the district should have some recommendations about what makes an effective teacher by the end of this school year.