Monday, November 12, 2007

Teachers Evaluating Teachers

Saw this in the Washington Post over the weekend. Early on, teachers could be fired if a parent complained or enough parents complained, or if a teacher didn't vote for the right politician.
Over time, to address these abuses, states passed tenure laws for teachers, and unions bargained for "due process" rights: the right to have charges laid out when dismissal was sought and the opportunity to defend oneself against the allegations. This right is at the heart of unionism, and in 1968 teachers in New York City, led by the late Albert Shanker, went on strike for 36 days after a school board in the ghetto of Ocean Hill-Brownsville summarily terminated the employment of several white teachers without due process.

By the 1980s, however, Shanker and other leaders of teachers unions came to acknowledge that in some school districts the right to due process had been taken to an extreme, making it very difficult to fire incompetent teachers. Shanker was willing to admit that there were some lousy teachers, and he backed a compromise plan to weed out the incompetent while preserving the basic idea of tenure: "peer review." Under peer review, which is used in Toledo, Ohio, and other communities, master teachers try to help struggling teachers. But if that doesn't work, the master teachers can recommend dismissal.

In practice, in Toledo and elsewhere, it turns out that teachers are even harder on colleagues than principals are, because a fourth-grade teacher doesn't want to get stuck with kids who haven't learned anything in third grade.

Peer review would not be a cure-all in D.C. schools, where a large number of teachers are seen as lacking. For such a system to work well, only exemplary teachers should be placed on review committees, and peer review programs to rid the District of the very worst teachers must be supplemented by innovative programs to replace them with the very best. But Rhee and Washington Teachers' Union President George Parker should take a close look at the peer review model. Tenure should be mended, not ended.
Tenure is okay, but it doesn't mean that tenure is a sheild against incompetence.

Elena Silva has some comments as well.
In Montgomery County, MD, for example, to be "put on PAR"– the county's peer assistance and review (PAR) program– means you've been evaluated by master teachers (not at your own school) as needing some form of remediation. For new teachers, this means more targeted professional development, which is often welcome. For veterans, this sometimes works as a reality check and a decision point– it either lights a fire under them to teach in new and better ways (pride swallowed) or reminds them that they forgot to retire or find a second career. I know a teacher who left after 20 years of teaching b/c she was put on PAR- it was the first time, she said, that she really "heard" the problem– she was a good teacher for the honors kids and a horrible one for the on-level kids, which is where she'd been placed by a well-meaning principal who was trying to put the experienced teachers with the kids who needed the most help. She didn't want to go through the program after 20 years of teaching, so she left. This is too bad for the honors kids she might have taught but, in the end, she says she's happier and says she had been thinking about leaving for years. And it's definitely better for the on-level kids who she was failing. She counsels kids for elite college placement now– probably what she should be doing.

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