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Putting the Power in Teachers' Hands

On a recent PBS NewsHour, education correspondent John Merrow examined an Ohio school district's use of peer evaluations in deciding which teachers stay and which teachers go.

The system is called peer assistance and review (PAR), and it works like this: Every first-year teacher gets a mentor—one of their veteran colleagues—who offers support and training throughout the year. Toward the end of the year, the mentor presents the new teacher's strengths and weaknesses to a nine-person panel of teachers and administrators and recommends either renewal or non-renewal of his or her contract. At that point, the fate of the first-year teacher is up to the panel.

On average, about eight percent of first-year Toledo public school teachers have been let go through this process, which has been in place since Dal Lawrence—former Toledo Federation of Teachers president—proposed it in 1981, according to the segment.

He felt the old system, which he described as "'top-down, I'm the boss and you're not' kind of stuff" led to distrust and a lack of responsibility and accountability within schools. With this system, he says, teachers take ownership of standards and enforcement and feel a sense of community.

First-year teachers aren't the only ones facing evaluations, though. Any teacher (those with tenure included) who gets reports of ineffectiveness must go through the process. But most end up keeping their jobs—less than 1 percent of veteran teachers have been fired in the last six years.

"We like to think of it as a way to help people step back up their game. But, if they don't, the other option is, yes, they will be looked at for termination," principal Larry Black told Merrow.

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