Teachers Evaluate Teachers in Unusual Project in Toledo

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This year, a small cadre of teachers in Toledo, Ohio, will work with 32 newly hired colleagues who have no former classroom experience. They will advise and supervise the new teachers through regular classroom visits and follow-up meetings. And at the end of the year, they will evaluate the junior teachers. The results of the evaluation will largely decide whether the new teachers are rehired.

It is unconventional in public education for teachers to pass official judgment on the performance of their colleagues, much less to play a decisive role in contract-renewal decisions. In Toledo, both are being done under a new and unorthodox internship program established jointly by the school system and the local teachers' union.

The Toledo experiment, now in its second year, is part of a small but growing movement to get better teachers into the classroom by giving recent college graduates more support and guidance during their first year of teaching and by weeding out those who prove incompetent before they get tenure.

Georgia two years ago initiated an internship system that puts each new teacher under the supervision of a three-member team made up of an education-school faculty member, a school-system administrator, and an experienced teacher. Florida and Oklahoma started similar programs for beginning teachers this fall.

In Toledo, a school system with 43,000 students and 2,340 teachers, the internship program is a product of a collective-bargaining agreement.

The master teachers, who now number 15, are chosen jointly by the president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers and the school system's director of personnel after first being recommended by three col-leagues, their principals, and the union.

Most of them have 15 to 20 years of experience. They are given a $1,000 bonus above their regular salary and are relieved of their teaching duties.

Once selected, they become part of a master-teacher pool, and are assigned when new teachers are hired to teach the same subject they teach. Currently, four of them work full time with about eight new teachers each, and several work part time.

The "consulting teachers," as they are also called, work with the inexperienced teachers throughout the year. Then they recommend--based primarily on a new teacher's ability to meet classroom standards that were also agreed to by the school system and the union--that the new teacher be rehired or fired. The master teacher also considers the comments of the novice teacher's principal in making a recommendation.

Nine-Member Review Board

A review board, made up of five union members and four school-system representatives, votes to approve or reject the master teacher's recommendation, then passes its decision on to the system's superintendent. A six-vote majority is necessary for a decision to be reached. The panel did not overturn any of the recommendations made to it last year, according to Ruth L. Scott, executive director of labor relations for the school system and a member of the panel.

The master teachers also spend part of their time working with tenured teachers in the school system who are performing poorly.

Either the school system or the union can stop the program at the end of each year. In their second year, Toledo teachers are evaluated under the traditional method, by administrators. Although Toledo hired only 18 teachers who "qualified" for the program last year (two were fired), those involved are enthusiastic about it.

"This is a way of actually getting unqualified teachers out of the profession," said Robert D. Corcoran, principal at the Byrnedale Junior High School and a member of the internship review panel.

"In the past," he added, "many principals and supervisors didn't have the time or make the effort, or didn't have the subject-matter knowledge, to build the kind of case needed to dismiss an incompetent teacher. And the unions used to fight the dismissal of every one of their members, no matter how bad they were."

"Under this system," Mr. Corcoran said, "you've got experienced people making decisions on the basis of their constant contact with the teacher over an entire year. And the union is going to support the decision. It's true, though, you don't often see unions and administrators working this well together."

The Toledo Federation of Teachers proposed the internship idea.

"We view it as a way of upgrading the quality of the teaching profession, and as a way of policing ourselves," said Terry L. Wyatt, a member of the union who has taught physics and chemistry in the city for 16 years. He participated in the program as a master teacher last year and is involved again this year.

"It also reflects our dissatisfaction with the way teachers were evaluated in the past," he added. "Administrators didn't have the time to do an effective job. And we feel that those in the [teaching] system should play a part in deciding who stays in it. There were some territorial types of resentment among principals at first, but now most of them endorse what we are doing."

"This idea is also valuable," he continued, "because it offers teachers the type of support and supervision they need in their first year. In the past, when they had problems, they were pretty much left on their own."

Novice teachers who took part in the program last year reported in a survey that they valued the supervision and support offered to them under the program.

Mr. Wyatt, who is also a vice president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, pointed out that master teachers are only allowed to remain in the program for three years: "We do not want them to become pseudo-administrators; they have to stay in touch with the classroom."

The American Federation of Teachers (aft), with which the Toledo federation is affiliated, is less enthusiastic about the Toledo experiment.

"We support internships and there is something to be said for the profession policing itself," said Marilyn Rauth, director of the aft's educational-issues department. "But the idea of the union, which is there to protect members' rights, being involved in what are traditionally management decisions is very controversial among the leadership here. The Toledo project is worth looking at, but we're not encouraging people to adopt it."

Responding to the suggestion that critics of the Toledo plan may say that the master teachers would tend to endorse the new teachers even when they are unqualified, because they are passing judgment on colleagues, Mr. Wyatt said: "They are not colleagues until they have proven that they have the ability to be a colleague."

Nonetheless, John E. Dunlop, manager of negotiations for the National Education Association, pointed out that the Toledo concept may be difficult to duplicate in a number of other states.

Many states, he said, have mandatory collective-bargaining laws that prohibit teachers from being involved in hiring and firing decisions about fellow union members. Ohio does not have a statewide bargaining law for teachers.

Vol. 02, Issue 08

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