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Parents in N.Y. District To Critique Teachers

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A new contract for teachers in Rochester, N.Y., includes unprecedented chances for parents to grade teachers and for teachers to critique administrators.

With the pact, Rochester becomes one of the first districts in the nation to have parent input about teachers become a formal part of job-performance reviews.

But the four-year contract, which the Rochester school board ratified last week in a unanimous 7-0 vote, stops short of basing promotions or salary increases on what parents have to say.

As a result of a recent state law, school districts in Alaska this year are also instituting parent and community responses into the performance evaluations of teachers and administrators. Some districts have yet to complete the process.

In Rochester, the parent-input forms became a big sticking point and dragged out negotiations over a new contract. The teachers' previous contract expired in June 1996. Worried that parents shouldn't be asked to evaluate pedagogy or a teacher's knowledge of the subject matter, the local teachers' union haggled with the district over specific questions on the form. ("Rochester Mulls Parent Voice in Rating Teachers," Aug. 6, 1997.)

But the district and the union ironed out their differences and drafted the input form. Earlier this month, 89.2 percent of the membership of the Rochester Teachers Association voted in favor of the parent-opinion plan. Principals and administrators will continue to conduct the evaluations of teachers.

The union also won a 17 percent increase in pay over four years. Under terms of the agreement, teachers will earn $31,000 to $71,000 this year. And, for the first time in Rochester, teachers who are evaluated as exceeding expectations will receive $1,500 bonuses if they also take part in district school-improvement programs.

Adam Urbanski, the president of the local union, an American Federation of Teachers affiliate, said the agreement about parent input will increase the likelihood that parents and teachers will communicate with each other and ultimately help students. "Kids tend to do better in school if they know parents and teachers are talking to each other," he said.

Clifford Janey, the Rochester superintendent, agreed that greater involvement of parents with teachers and schools makes for better student achievement. Also, as the district works on improving policy and practice, he said, parent feedback about teachers could help identify areas in need of improvement or those worthy of praise.

20 Questions

The two-page form, to be distributed to parents and returned to teachers in February, focuses on home-school relations. Among 20 questions, it asks whether the teacher contacts the parent when there are concerns about academic performance or attendance. It also inquires about whether the teacher welcomes classroom visits and encourages learning at home and in the community.

The forms, which must be signed by the parent and returned directly to the teacher, also ask whether the parent has communicated with the teacher at all during the school year. The parent may choose to send a copy to the teacher's supervisor or principal. Otherwise, teachers are expected to bring the forms to their evaluation sessions with supervisors.

The parents' comments will affect just one area--home involvement--of the four in which teachers are evaluated, Mr. Urbanski said. The others are pedagogy, knowledge of subject matter, and contribution to the life of the school and the profession.

Under the contract, teachers will be able to evaluate their supervisors and administrators. The form for that purpose has yet to be written, Mr. Urbanski said. As with the forms for teachers, the ones for administrators will be taken into consideration in the evaluation process but not used as the final word.

Alaska at the Brink

The 48,600-student Anchorage, Alaska, district, meanwhile, is still in the process of determining what its questionnaire will ask of parents. A final version is expected this fall for use in the spring.

But a draft version ventures into the territory Rochester teachers shunned, asking parents whether their child's teacher "knows the subject matter of the class and how to teach it."

Parent input has come about because of a recent state law that calls for districts to revamp their teacher and administrator evaluations. The law said the critiques must include input from parents, students, colleagues, and community members, according to Richard Kronberg, the Anchorage Education Association president.

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