Calif. Groups Unite To Promote Peer Review

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Four major education stakeholders in California came together last week in an unprecedented collaboration aimed at helping alleviate concerns over the nation's first statewide peer-assistance and -review program for teachers.

The state's two largest teachers' unions and the school administrators' and school boards' assocations, unveiled a statement of commitment to the program, which was a highlight of a package of school changes proposed by Democratic Gov. Gray Davis and passed by state lawmakers last spring. ("Reform Bills Pass in Calif. Legislature," March 31, 1999.)

A handful of districts, including Cincinnati and Rochester, N.Y., have tried such programs, but California is the first state to adopt and financially support the measure that many educators and other experts believe will lead to a corps of teachers that is more competent and willing to stay in the ranks.

Gary K. Hart

The California groups said the joint commitment was necessary in part because many districts are hoping to move fast in implementing peer assistance and review in order to cash in on the state's monetary incentives. Districts' participation is voluntary, but those that put a program in place by next July will receive an additional $2,800 for every state- financed mentor or "consulting" teacher. The incentive drops to $1,000 per consulting teacher for districts that start a program by July 2001, and those that miss the deadline will lose a total of up to $400 million in state aid for teacher training.

California does not prescribe a specific model for peer assistance and review.

Local Decision

The initiative will replace a program that covers up to 5 percent of a district's certified staff members at $5,680 for every mentor teacher.

But for the program to succeed, a district will also need to join forces with its local teachers' union affiliate, because each district must negotiate its own contract. The groups also met in part to set a precedent for that cooperation.

"If you start out being contentious, it's very hard to end up being collaborative," said Bob Wells, the executive director of the Association of California School Administrators, a group that helped create the joint statement along with the California School Boards Association, the California Teachers Association, and the California Federation of Teachers.

"Even though the time line is short, the legislation is flexible,'' said Elaine Johnson, the assistant to the president of the cft. "We hope that this statement of commitment will be a good starting point for discussion. If people just jump into writing contract language, they could short-cut the promise of this legislation."

Program Potential

The New Teacher Center, a nonprofit organization based at the University of California, Santa Cruz, initially sought out the four education associations and acted as a facilitator.

"Labor and management must come forward in a cohesive way to move forward," said Ellen Moir, the director of teacher education at the university.

Ellen Moir

All the education groups agree that the potential for the legislation extends well beyond its specific requirements. The law mandates that participants use consulting teachers to evaluate and assist veteran teachers who have received unsatisfactory evaluations, or those who voluntarily seek help. But one of the principles in the groups' joint statement is that "parties should consider developing and implementing a full continuum of support for new teachers and successful veteran teachers."

That type of comprehensive professional development is what Gov. Davis envisioned when he introduced the program, Gary K. Hart, the state secretary for education, said at a press conference last week. "It is a very worthwhile effort and certainly in line with what [the governor] considers to be most important--raising student achievement," he said.

As important as the specific guidelines listed in the groups' statement are, local districts and teachers' unions may find the sheer symbolism of the collaboration useful in assuaging their fears as they proceed with negotiations, said Dan Threatt, the executive director of the Mount Diablo Education Association, a group that last spring helped put together a peer-assistance and -review program in the 39,000-student Mount Diablo Unified School District near San Francisco.

"People will see that their organization is saying, 'This is all right, this is good,' and that will be helpful," Mr. Threatt said. "For some administrators, this is a huge change in their culture."

Vol. 19, Issue 10, Page 18

Published in Print: November 3, 1999, as Calif. Groups Unite To Promote Peer Review
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