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A Vote For Peer Review

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"David slew Goliath,'' proclaimed the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers after the state legislature in February approved a measure that altered state labor-relations laws to sanction teacher peer-review programs. The issue was raised in the legislature after school officials in Toledo warned that their district's model program could be forced out of existence by labor complaints.

The controversial measure engendered a fierce lobbying campaign, pitting the 20,000-member Ohio Federation of Teachers against the 100,000-member Ohio Education Association. The specific amendment that actually established peer-review as fair labor practice squeaked by the state Senate by a vote of 16 to 15.

Joseph Rutherford, an administrative assistant to the superintendent for the Toledo Public Schools, hailed the vote, calling peer review "the cornerstone of educational reform.''

Last spring, a Toledo teacher who lost his job through the peer-review program filed a complaint with the State Employment Relations Board. The board then warned the district that its nine-year-old teacher-evaluation program probably would not survive a state court challenge because it could leave union members without union job protection.

Had the legislature not amended the state labor law to describe teacher peer-review programs as fair labor practice, says Dal Lawrence, president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers, "there was a very real possibility'' the district could not continue its program next year.

The Toledo program provides for first-year teachers to be monitored and assessed by veteran teachers, who then recommend to a review board whether the individual's contract should be renewed.

Similar teacher-evaluation programs have been implemented in Cleveland, Akron, Columbus, Cincinnati, Worthington, and other Ohio cities, though not all give teachers as much power to influence decisions about the retention of their peers as Toledo's.

Cecile Gill, director of governmental services for the OEA, says her organization believes the responsibility to renew teacher contracts should be left to the school administration, not fellow teachers. The OEA, she notes, supports peer-review programs that leave administrators with the final say over who is rehired.

The OEA opposed the amendment, Gill adds, because the state already had "a model law'' and because the Senate Education Committee had passed the amendment too hastily.

"Our position is that teachers who evaluate other teachers should do so for the purpose of improving the performance of the teacher being evaluated,'' Gill explains, asserting that teachers who know that their evaluators could eventually recommend their discharge will be less likely to discuss the difficulties they are encountering.

The OEA's largest local, the Columbus Education Association, which is experimenting with peer review, strongly opposed its parent organization in the debate.

--Peter Schmidt, Education Week

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