Peer Review of Teachers
ERIC Identifier: ED429343
Publication Date: 1999-05-00
Author: Hertling, Elizabeth
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management Eugene OR.
Recently, Massachusetts implemented a new teacher-licensing exam that contained an
eleventh-grade-level literacy skills test. More than 55 percent of the teacher candidates,
all college seniors or graduates, initially failed to pass (AFT and NEA 1998). Incidents
such as these have fueled the public's desire for a greater accountability in
education--and in teachers. How can we ensure teacher quality?
For many, peer review is the answer. While peer review has been practiced in a handful
of districts since the 1980s, it attracted renewed attention recently, when delegates to
the NEA's convention voted to drop their longstanding opposition to peer review. This is
part of the union's new unionism, in which they advocate teachers taking greater
responsibility for school quality (Bradley, June 1998).
Peer review stepped into the national spotlight even more recently with California's peer
assistance and review law, which allocates $41 million in incentive funds for districts
that negotiate peer-review programs by July 1, 2000, and threatens to withhold up to
$400 million in aid from districts that miss a January 1, 2000, deadline (Johnston 1999).
WHAT IS PEER REVIEW?
Peer review is often linked to peer assistance, which helps new and veteran teachers
improve their knowledge and skills. Experienced consulting teachers serve as mentors
to new teachers or to veteran teachers who are experiencing problems unrelated to
absenteeism or substance abuse. By providing support through observing, sharing
ideas and skills, and recommending useful materials for study, consulting teachers
strive to improve teacher quality (AFT and NEA).
In peer-review programs, consulting teachers conduct formal evaluations and
recommend whether the participating teacher should be retained or let go. A common
misconception regarding peer review is that consulting teachers have the final authority
to make decisions regarding employment. In reality, while the local union shares
responsibility with the school district to review teachers' performance and make
recommendations, the final employment decision is made by the district administrator
and the board of education (AFT and NEA).
Most peer review does not exist without some form of peer assistance. "Peer review
without intensive peer assistance for the teachers in the program does not represent
sound educational policy," state the AFT and the NEA. While much attention has
focused on the idea of teachers helping to dismiss incompetent colleagues, most
programs devote more time and resources to mentoring new teachers. Bob Chase,
president of the NEA, notes, "To characterize peer assistance and review as getting rid
of bad teachers is a gross misrepresentation of what it's all about" (Bradley, June 1998).
WHAT ARE SOME EXAMPLES OF PEER-REVIEW PROGRAMS?
One well-known example of peer review exists in Columbus, Ohio. Created in 1986, the
Columbus Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) Program serves 4,800 teachers. The
PAR program requires all new teachers, even those with previous teaching experience,
to work with a consulting, or mentor, teacher. Struggling experienced teachers can enter
the program either voluntarily or through teacher or administrator recommendation
Consulting teachers are released from the classroom for three years, and after serving
their term return to teaching. For reviewing and providing assistance to their colleagues,
they receive a stipend equal to 20 percent of their base pay. They are required to make
at least twenty visits to the classroom and conduct one-on-one conferences with the
participating teacher to help set goals. At the end of the year, consulting teachers
recommend to a panel whether the employment of the new and veteran teachers in
their caseload should be continued (Gufloff).
The results? Twenty percent of veteran teachers who go through intervention leave the
school system (Gutloff). Eighty percent of new teachers are still on the job five years
later, while in other urban districts without peer review, 50 percent of new hires leave
after five years (Bradley, June 1998).
The NEA affiliate in Toledo, Ohio, pioneered peer review in 1981, creating the Toledo
Plan. Praised by the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, the
Toledo Plan is one of the best-known peer-review programs in the country. Similar to
PAR, new teachers as well as veteran teachers are assisted and evaluated by
consulting teachers. However, new teachers also have the option of continuing to meet
with their mentor during their second year of teaching as well (AFT and NEA).
Unlike most peer-review programs, Toledo's does not exist in conjunction with periodic
principal evaluations. In January 1998, the program was contested when principals
argued that 41 percent of teachers in the district weren't evaluated regularly. In a
compromise, principals are now allowed to refer teachers to the program instead of
having to seek union approval (Bradley, January 1998).
WHAT ARE THE POTENTIAL BENEFITS OF PEER REVIEW?
The National Commission on Teaching and America's Future claims that more teachers
have received help and more incompetent teachers have been dismissed under peer
review than under traditional methods of evaluation. In Cincinnati, almost twice as many
teachers were dismissed under peer review as under administrator evaluations (U.S.
Department of Education 1998).
Supporters of peer review say that it is superior to traditional principal evaluation, which
is often hurried and inadequately measures teacher performance. Smith and Scott
(1990) note that "evaluation strategies that rely on standardized checklists and other
bureaucratic methods continue to be widely used even though they contribute little to
teacher growth." The NEA and AFT argue that consulting teachers impose higher
standards than principals do "because they know full well that they suffer the
consequences of incompetent colleagues in immediate and demoralizing ways." Along
with the higher standards also comes ample opportunity for teachers to improve; as
long as teachers are making progress, most programs allow them to stay in
Under peer review, teachers take a more active role in their profession, advocates
contend. Tom Mooney, president of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers, believes
teachers--and their unions--need to take more responsibility to self-police their
profession: "It's pretty tough to say that we ought to have a predominant say in
programs, curriculum, methods, and books, and then say the review of professional
practice is somebody else's job" (Bradley). In addition, Smith and Scott say peer review
transforms teachers and principals from adversaries to allies in improving teaching
standards and combats the climate of isolation that exists in many schools.
WHAT ARE THE POTENTIAL PROBLEMS OF PEER REVIEW?
Critics of peer review say that it presents legal problems for local union affiliates. In
collective-bargaining states, consulting teachers could be classified as supervisors and
lose their bargaining-unit status. Simpson (1997) argues that local affiliates can avoid
this problem by negotiating with the school district to include a clause that allows
consulting teachers to remain in the bargaining unit. The NEA advises affiliates to make
this a prerequisite when setting up a peer-review program.
Others criticize peer review because they say it conflicts with the union's duty of fair
representation. Critics worry that peer review will present a conflict of interest for the
union (Simpson). The NEA and AFT argue that the union is not obliged to handle every
member's grievance, but must instead be fair and consistent. In Cincinnati, teacher
grievances arising from peer review are handled separately from the joint union-district
panels governing the program, thus avoiding conflicts with fair representation (Bradley,
Critics also say that peer review does not address the real problems that lie behind
teacher quality. Wroth (1998) argues that unions should focus instead on tenure laws,
which cost the average district $60,000 and two to three years to fire one teacher.
Others say administrators are already trained and paid to evaluate, and should be
allowed to do their job. Wroth argues that if principals cannot give adequate evaluations,
then reform should focus on strengthening principals's skills. He asserts that "good
schools need strong principals, but they rarely get them in a system where principals
know they aren't responsible for the quality of their teachers."
WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF PEER REVIEW?
The new law in California has many talking about the future of peer review. Bradley
(June 1998) says the aspect of peer review that is likely to become important in the
future is its ability to retain new teachers longer through its first-year intern programs. As
student enrollment continues to grow and increasing numbers of teachers reach
retirement, districts must continually hire more and more new teachers.
Overall, the future of peer review remains uncertain. Currently, only a handful of districts
practice peer review, making it difficult to draw definitive conclusions. Peer-review
programs require a high level of union-management trust and cooperation, which is
sometimes difficult to achieve. Despite this and other potential problems, for some
school districts and now the state of California, the potential benefits of peer review are
considered to outweigh its difficulties.
This publication was prepared with funding from the Office of Educational Research and
Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, under contract no. ED-99-CO-0011. The
ideas and opinions expressed in this Digest do not necessarily reflect the positions or
policies of OERI, ED, or the Clearinghouse. This Digest is in the public domain and may
be freely reproduced.
American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association. Peer Assistance
and Peer Review: An AFT/NEA Handbook. Washington D.C.: Author, 1998. 114 pages.
Bradley, Ann. "Peer-Review Programs Catch Hold As Unions, Districts Work Together."
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