Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Wealthy Washington DC suburb takes steps to better evaluate teachers

One Way to Save Struggling Teachers--Maybe
Washington Post
June 29, 2009

My colleague Dan de Vise provides an intriguing look at teacher support efforts on our front page Monday, in what many seasoned educators think is the best way to help bad teachers--regular counseling and review by experts.

His subject is the Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) program in Montgomery County, a wealthy suburb that can afford the $2 million annual cost. Teachers who are ineffective in the classroom, and all new teachers, are assigned a classroom expert who watches them in action and meets with them regularly, making suggestions and seeing if they work. A 16-person panel---8 principals appointed by the school system and 8 teachers appointed by the union--makes the final decision on whether to keep the teachers or dismiss them so they can seek more congenial employment.

This seems to produce more, rather than fewer, dismissals of ineffective teachers than Montgomery had before. But that is a misleading figure because before PAR, under-performing teachers were often hectored into quitting, and didn’t show up on the stats as being dismissed. The teachers union designed the plan. The superintendent likes it.

My only qualm is that the panel pays little attention to test score data or parental opinions---both of which teachers' unions tend to ignore anyway. Many parents, including me, think those factors should get more weight.

Throwing a Lifeline to Struggling Teachers

Montgomery Program Embraces Peer Review
By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post
June 29, 2009

...Union contracts and tenure rules tend to make it difficult to dismiss ineffective teachers. But in Montgomery, the union is teaming with school officials to weed out -- or, better yet, help improve -- teachers who fall short.

Introduced by teachers in Toledo in 1981, peer review arrived in Montgomery 10 years ago and is considered in many quarters a promising solution to the labor-management impasse over teacher dismissals. The National Education Association has encouraged peer review since the mid-1990s. The American Federation of Teachers, which had supported it even earlier, last year passed a resolution calling on affiliates to consider the program.

But no other school system in the D.C. region has embraced peer review, and the program has expanded slowly. Federation President Randi Weingarten said peer review "takes real collaboration between the superintendent and the union leader." Often, the two are adversaries.

Peer review gives Maryland's largest school system the power to dismiss under-performers. It gives struggling teachers a chance to rebuild skills. Of 66 Montgomery teachers in peer review in the 2008-09 school year, 10 are being dismissed and 21 have resigned or retired. Five will remain in review for a second year. The remaining 30 will successfully exit.

[Maura Larkins' comment: Thirty successful teachers out of sixty-six shows that there is some success in the mentoring side of this operation. And one thing I like about the system is that there is some genuine evaluation going on...It sounds like an improvement to the current system, although I would recommend that the district have outsiders come in to do the final evaluations to eliminate politics from the equation. The success rate isn't high enough to rely on in-district individuals making the final decision. It seems that there is more pressure to get rid of the teachers than there is to help them improve.]

"We've changed the whole culture from 'gotcha' to support," said Montgomery Superintendent Jerry D. Weast.

Peer review, which costs Montgomery schools $2 million a year, pairs a struggling teacher with a mentor. Those who improve return to the classroom. Those who do not go before a panel of 16 teachers and principals that amounts to an impartial court. It decides whether to recommend termination or a second year of monitoring. No one gets more than two years...

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