Toledo Peer-Review Program Being Contested

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The best-known peer-review program in the nation has become a sticking point in stalled negotiations over a new contract for Toledo's 2,600 teachers.

The disagreement comes at a time of renewed interest in such arrangements, spurred by the endorsement of the president of the National Education Association and a respected national commission on teaching.

Representatives of the Toledo Federation of Teachers and the northern Ohio school district were scheduled to meet Jan. 23 for the first time since last month, when the school board voted 4-1 to reject a fact-finder's report. Union members had voted the day before to approve it.

The teachers' contract expired Nov. 30.

"The ball is really in the board's court," Francine Lawrence, the president of the American Federation of Teachers affiliate, said last week. "They, by their vote, rejected the compromise by an outsider and voted to continue the dispute."

Ensuring 'the Best'

In negotiations for a new contract, the school board and Superintendent Merrill Grant sought major changes in how teachers are evaluated, transferred and placed in schools, and considered for jobs in the district.

Terry Glazer, the president of the board, said the proposed changes were aimed at ensuring that Toledo's teachers become "the best they can be."

While Toledo has gained national recognition for its peer-review program--which provides support for new teachers and those experiencing trouble--41 percent of the teachers in the 39,000-student district aren't evaluated regularly.

The board proposed that one-third of those teachers be formally evaluated by their principals each year.

"No one is trying to dismantle the intern/intervention program," Mr. Glazer said. "What the board is saying is we need to find a way of making sure that veteran teachers are working up to their potential."

But the teachers' union argues that instituting traditional evaluations by principals would be adversarial and incompatible with peer review. The union also says it would be legally obligated to represent teachers who earned unfavorable reviews from principals, which would undercut its own efforts to take responsibility for the teaching force through the intern-intervention program.

Ms. Lawrence called most customary teacher evaluations "a monumental failure," noting that, in contrast, the union has counseled more than 50 teachers out of the profession since it began the program in 1981.

"These are statistics no other district can cite," she said.

The "Toledo plan" has become a model for other Ohio cities and received favorable mention in the 1996 report of the National Commission on Teaching & America's Future. Bob Chase, the president of the NEA, also has been pushing for more locals to negotiate peer-review programs.

Modifications Offered

To address the Toledo board's concerns, the local union offered to modify the current program to allow principals, on their own, to refer teachers to the Intern Board of Review. The teachers would be reviewed by a consulting teacher and could be assigned to a mentor for "assistance," a step short of formal intervention.

Currently, all referrals to the panel must be agreed to by union representatives.

In his report, Mitchell B. Goldberg, the state-appointed fact-finder, concluded that the union's proposal "does not go far enough to provide the necessary input from administrators."

He suggested that principals be kept closely informed of their teachers' progress by the consulting teachers, and that principals also be allowed to recommend intervention, based on those reports.

Hiring Handcuffed?

In addition to seeking modifications in teacher evaluations, the school board is pushing for changes in the way teachers are hired and schools are staffed.

Superintendent Grant argued in an article last fall in the local newspaper, The Blade, that in addition to more-frequent evaluations, the district "needs to be more competitive in our hiring practices." He could not be reached last week for comment.

As it now stands, Toledo teachers have until Aug. 8 each year to express their interest in open positions in the district, which are then filled according to seniority. The board argues that this system makes it difficult to fill posts in time for the opening of school and puts the district at a disadvantage in competing for new teachers.

The union has offered to move the date back to July 11, the day after teachers must give notice if they plan to retire.

The board also wanted to rewrite contract language that governs the categories of employees who can be hired. The board now must use a "priority hiring list" that gives preference to people who have worked as hourly teachers, tutors, substitutes, and paraprofessionals before new applicants can be offered teaching contracts.

The superintendent has asserted that this system makes it difficult for Toledo to hire minority teachers, but the union rejects that claim.

Ms. Lawrence called the district's effort to link the hiring list to the issue of minority teachers "a bogus issue" that "perpetuates myths and outright distortions of fact."

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