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Toledo Peer Review and Race to Top Spared, For Now

The original peer-assistance and -review program seems to have narrowly escaped the budget ax in Toledo, Ohio, a decision that allows the district to access its nearly $11 million cut of Race to the Top funds.

Last month, Superintendent Jerry Pecko indicated plans to "cancel" both PAR and an alternative-compensation system known as TRACS, as part of a plan to close a projected budget deficit of about $37 million. In newspaper articles, Mr. Pecko said he'd work with teachers to institute two different (presumably cheaper) programs.

In response, Francine Lawrence, the president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers, sent a letter to the Ohio education department pulling the union's support for the Race to the Top. Since both programs were included in the district's scope of work under the federal grant, she reasoned, the superintendent's cancellation of the program had effectively altered the jointly agreed-upon plan for implementing its share of the funding.

PAR carries symbolic importance for both the TFT and for "labor-management collaboration," an idea that's been in the spotlight a lot lately. Lawrence's husband, Dal, helped institute the program in 1981; she once described it to me as "the fundamental collaborative initiative between union and management. All of our other collaborative ventures stem from that."

TRACS is relatively more recent. It began in the early 2000s and also got funding from the federal Teacher Incentive Fund grant.

Now, Pecko and Lawrence appear to have worked things out. They recently sent a joint letter to the state education department in which Pecko withdrew his cancellation of the programs, and Lawrence reinstated the union's commitment to RTT. For the time being, that seems to mean both programs will be sheltered from budget cuts.

But there could still be other conflicts mounting over the programs. As this Toledo Blade story indicates, there are potential battles brewing over the place of "value added" achievement growth in the two programs.

PAR is part of the district's evaluation system, while the TRACS program rewards both individual and school-based achievement growth. I've looked up the details of TRACS, and teachers do need to set and show they've met an achievement-growth goal. But from what I can tell, that doesn't necessarily need to mean standardized-test scores.

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