Some teachers are getting one-on-one coaching based on videos of their teaching; the others have passwords to an online learning community.

As the nation pushes to improve the quality of its public school teachers, it’s pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into teacher development with little way to measure the results.

In a small study in the Memphis, Tenn., City Schools, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is testing two ways to help, then measuring their effects on student test scores.

One group of teachers is getting eight rounds of one-on-one coaching from experts at Cambridge Educational Services in Des Plaines, Ill., based on video samples of their teaching.

The second have a password to an online learning community, giving them 24-7 freedom to talk about classroom management, or teaching fractions—anything that comes up, really—with other site members.

“We have teachers who are receiving different levels of feedback and different forms of feedback. We are comparing the amount of feedback to see what leads to better improvement,” said Steve Cantrell, senior program officer for the Gates Foundation.

The research will continue for two years; results will be released in 2014.

For Ikeysha Hall, a fourth-grade teacher at the city’s Sharpe Elementary School, having a private coach is better than any teacher development she has received in more than a decade as an educator.

(Next page: How the one-on-one coaching works—and more early findings from the study)