Peer Review: A Panacea?

By Stephen Sawchuk — February 02, 2009 1 min read

The national teachers’ unions weren’t altogether thrilled by all the attention paid to teacher effectiveness in two reports released last week (see here and here for details). National Education Association Dennis Van Roekel, for instance, argued that the reports would have overemphasized standardized test scores.

“What a teacher does with her students, how she relates to them, and how she translates her subject knowledge into effective teaching practice are all the central measures of quality teaching,” he argued.

AFT was equally unhappy with the reports, but the union’s releases heavily promoted the “peer assistance and review” model of teacher evaluation as a promising option for dealing with ineffective teachers.

“We know that schools need to aggressively deal with ineffective teachers, and we are willing to take on the tough job of developing new systems to measure teacher effectiveness,” one of AFT’s statements reads.

Under a PAR system, teachers who are struggling in the classroom are referred to work with a “consulting teacher.” Those who do not improve are typically referred for greater intervention and can ultimately face dismissal. Among the best known examples are in Cincinnati, Toledo and Columbus, Ohio; Rochester, N.Y.; and Montgomery County, Md.

But here’s some food for thought: In any kind of teacher-evaluation system, what percentage of teachers should expect to improve with assistance? And what percentage won’t improve and need to be removed from the classroom? And how long should a teacher who’s on the borderline remain in a classroom with kids?

Within the existing PAR models, these figures appear to have varied quite a bit. These data from the Toledo AFT Web site, for instance, show failure rates by teachers on the PAR system ranging from 2 percent to nearly 16 percent.)

Also, despite being around for almost 30 years, PAR just isn’t that popular. Some local unions, such as the National Education Association-affiliated California Teachers Association remain skeptical of the concept (see this interview with leader A.J. Duffy.)

PAR may be becoming the standard AFT response to the thorny issue of teacher effectiveness, but is it the best answer?

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.

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