The New York Times has an excellent article today on an effort to conduct widespread observations of teachers by video camera to help identify specific practices that are working. First, I think it's crazy that something of this scale hasn't been done before with the amount we spend on education. It seems so obvious I kind of thought this would already have happened. We need more of this.
A big next step would be to place hidden cameras in some classrooms. As anyone that has ever been through a workplace evaluation or audit knows the kind of practices that happen when under observation are never quite the same as what happens during the normal day to day. While there are a few privacy concerns these seem to me to be surmountable. In particular, a handful of particularly good teachers would probably volunteer for this monitoring as part of a research project. It could then be used as a stick against failing schools or teachers that doesn't involve cutting aid. Struggling schools could be asked to submit to hidden remote monitoring in exchange for allowing cameras to be installed. People would bitch of course, but to this non-expert it simply seems like a sensible step