ERIC Identifier: ED429343
Publication Date: 1999-05-00
Author: Hertling, Elizabeth
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Educational Management Eugene OR.
Peer Review of Teachers. ERIC Digest, Number 126.
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
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?
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
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?
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 intervention.
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?
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
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, June 1998).
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
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.
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." Education Week on the Web (June 3, 1998): 1-7. (www.edweek.org)
___________. "Toledo Peer-Review Program Being Contested." Education Week on
the Web (January 28, 1998): 1-3. (www.edweek.org)
Gutloff, Karen. "You Be the Judge." NEA Today (November 1997): 1-9.
Johnston, Robert C. "Reform Bills Pass in California Legislature." Education
Week XVIII, 29 (March 31, 1999): 1, 18. (www.edweek.org)
Pyle, Amy. "Davis School Reform Bills Clear Senate." Los Angeles Times (March
2, 1999): 1-4. (www.latimes.com)
Simpson, Michael D. "Can You Be Sued for Participating in a Peer Assistance
and Review Program?" NEA Today (November 1997): 1-4.
Smith, Stuart C., and James J. Scott. The Collaborative School: A Work
Environment for Effective Instruction. Eugene, Oregon: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Educational Management; and Reston, Virginia: National Association of Secondary
School Principals, 1990. 77 pages. ED 316 918.
U.S. Department of Education. "Improving Teacher Accountability and
Incentives." In Promising Practices: New Ways To Improve Teacher Quality.
Washington D.C.: Author, 1998. 5 pages.
Wroth, Robert. "Reforming the Teachers' Unions: What the Good Guys Have
Accomplished--and What Remains to Be Done." Washington Monthly 30, 5 (May 1998):