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Teachers Grading Teachers


Toledo, Ohio, has the longest history of teacher peer reviews in the country, having started almost thirty years ago, according to National Public Radio. A "consultant" (or master teacher) studies a colleague's preparation, planning and presentation of lessons, knowledge of material, engagement and discipline of students, even dress and punctuality. Poor performance can result in job termination—a decision that once rendered is rarely overturned or appealed.

According to the NPR piece, special education teacher Joshua Singer started teaching in Toledo in 2000 and left the position after a positive peer review. He went on to earn a master's degree before returning to a teaching job in a middle school in the district. He then received a dissatisfactory peer review, according to the report. He believes he was targeted unfairly by his consultant for having a good relationship with his students. "There's nowhere to turn, there's no grievance process," he said in the piece by reporter Claudio Sanchez. "I knew I was in a losing situation."

While the peer review system may leave teachers like Singer feeling scorned, David Strom, general counsel at the American Federation of Teachers, believes the peer review process preserves the integrity of teaching and prevents lawsuits with overwhelming union support. "A union's job is not to defend every teacher no matter what the teacher has done, particularly if that teacher is not competent or capable," he noted.

According to Del Lawrence, former president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers, a peer review can shorten a new educator's learning curve and spare a lot of grief: "A bad teacher can do a lot of damage in 5 years."

Editor's note: This post was updated attributing comments and quotes about Joshua Singer to the NPR report and clarifying his tenure with the district.


What kind of crap is that!? Knowing in the US we need teachers. A peer review is OK, but for the sake of another's job; I don't know. Question, doe the reviewer have higher credentials than the teacher? Are they "highly qualified"? Are their peer reviews as a teacher all proficient to superior? Are they certified in special ewducation? I mean after 8 years of teaching he's let go. What ever happened to due-process? He did have tenure right, but I guess that didn't matter. What about his previous years of teaching? He has one bad lesson or few and all of a sudden he's a bad teacher? The school year is long and we all have had a few bad lessons/days, but to take a person's livelyhood is just bananas. I think there should be some type of due-process for that situation. What if, like he stated, that person didn't like him because he was doing a job they failed at or just personal? Then what!? It can happen...furthermore it does happen. Due-process needs to be there in that state. If you need a job the Maryland school systems has one for you. No due-process...that's bananas....what about tenure....oh no let's not go there....tenure in OH is obviously not a concern.

Sorry for any typos and misspelling of any words. I didn't check my work.

Only Special Education teachers should be reviewing Special Education teachers. Other teachers are not adequately knowledgeable about what the requirements for this position are.

Funny, there was no reference to whether this teacher actually taught (was effective in changing the behavior of the students). Why is process the only thing that is evaluated?

I am glad we don't have the AFT representing teachers in our district. Everyone deserves a defense

Why is it that any criticism of any teacher is considered to be unfair? I know of no profession in which every single member is above reproach. Moreover, why is the teacher focusing on his "good relationship" with the kids? Even kids in special education are supposed to be learning. If he (or any other teacher) is to have my support, they will need to start talking about the measurable progress their student are making.

Teaching was a career change for me. One of the first things I noticed in education, was this idea that teachers are not accountable for anything concrete. Teachers don't like any kind of review whether by district, administration, or even peers.

In fact David Strom's statement that “A union’s job is not to defend every teacher no matter what the teacher has done, particularly if that teacher is not competent or capable,” was surprisingly refreshing.

However, the criteria used for the review and judgment is critical. No one wants to, or should be, judged on the scores of a single high stakes test. But I guess what I am reacting to, and it has shown up in the posts here, is the notion that somehow any time a teacher is disciplined or fired it is unfair or punitive. That any measure or review process is inherently unacceptable. The overwhelming majority of teachers are hard working and caring. But as in any profession, the ones that are incompetent or uncaring need to be dismissed.

A quality peer review system could be the foundation of a quality merit pay system as well as a method for 'preserving the integrity of teaching.' In addition, peer review systems remove people who don't have the aptitude and passion for teaching by making them leave before they become so dissatisfied and cynical that they poison the morale of the school and classroom with their attitudes.

I'm proud of my profession and want to see high standards supported, mediocrity improved, and substandard teachers removed rather than moved to the position in the school where they can do the least amount of harm.

Toldeo's selection of its "master teacher" is in line with the ODE's questionable practice of hiring PRAXIS III assessors. One recent regular education teacher, (middle school science), was reviewed by an assessor who was never licensed in the State of Ohio as a full-time regular education classroom teacher. The assessor graduated from college in the 1950's, and had difficulty understanding the use of the new technology used by the candidate in the lesson.

The complaint was that there was no fair review/grievance process for this Toledo teacher. Most of the responses to this point have been pro or con on approximately the same issue -- fairness about judgments of teacher performance, and the criteria for making those judgments.

These would be good matters to discuss no matter how the teacher performance judgment was made (by peer or adminstrator).

Is there anything to be said here, specifically, about *peer* review?

My administrator has said she would never start documenting a teacher as it is just too much paperwork. So we are stuck with a very bad teacher who gives my department a bad name, and who creates tremendous problems for those of us down the line (who teach his freshmen when they become sophomores, etc.) This teacher has no intention of changing (as he as stated in meetings)--he has a job, and that's all he cares about.
We all know of terrible teachers that shouldn't be in the classroom, but every time someone comes up with a way of getting rid of them, everyone seems to get scared that they're next, and all heck breaks loose. As long as we teachers tolerate those who are totally incompetent, we have no right to call ourselves professionals. I'm not sure why so many teachers are so scared of being held accountable for what they do.

I do not have a problem with peer review as long as the reviewer has the same or better qualifications than I have and there is a review process, such as asking for another peer review to validate or contradict the first. I teach in Texas and we do not have tenure, however after three years we do have due process. This needs to be in place regardless of the process used. I find it funny that administrators require all that paperwork from us when we are having trouble with a student, but they are unwilling to do the same when there is a problem with a teacher. A lot of problems could be solved by raising the standards to become a teacher and raising the salary package for teachers to a professional wage. This would attract more people into the profession. In my textbook for diversity in education, white collar is described as professional with college degrees except for teachers. As far as teachers being scared of being held accountable, the problem with that is that there are three people involved in the education of a student: the student, the teacher, and the parent. However the only person being held accountable for the learning is the teacher. Why is that?

In my elementary school there are four of us classified as specialty teachers--library, art, music and P. E. In our monthly meetings, we often find that we consistently have difficulties with the same groups of children and, sometimes, with the students of a particular teacher year after year. However, there is really no mechanism for our observations both in terms of peer review and in helping the various grade levels in putting together classes for the next year. Many times the first time a group comes into the room, I know that certain children will be having difficulties because of the teacher they are with or because of the other children. It seems to me that peer review can be helpful as part of the process of developing a learning community; in other words, as a means of helping and encouraging one another. I agree that that a person the field that one is teaching should be a primary part of the review system, but I think that sometimes someone from outside the field of expertise can see things that are not obvious to someone as close to the area. Those who can look at the larger picture of the school, such as administrators and teachers who have contact with the whole student body.

"As far as teachers being scared of being held accountable, the problem with that is that there are three people involved in the education of a student: the student, the teacher, and the parent. However the only person being held accountable for the learning is the teacher. Why is that?"

While I don't agree that parents and students are not held accountable (parents can be held legally liable for educational neglect; students receive grades and can be "failed" or receive various kinds of discipline); perhaps the reason for holding teachers accountable is that they are paid professionals?

There must be more to the story...surely a teacher cannot be asked to resign solely upon the results of a single peer evaluation and review? The peer review process as part of an overall teacher evaluation should be carefully considered. Both the teacher and the teacher/evaluator need to be fully informed about the expectations and potential outcomes of the process. The teacher/evaluator should be fully versed in the area(s) he or she is asked to comment upon a peer's performance. Peer evaluation, guidance, and mentorship can be immensely powerful ways to nurture new professionals.

As in any other business (yes, education is a business), companies and corporations have peers in the departments review each employee for their input in performance appraisals. Much can be determined by what other employees see and do with their colleagues that a supervisor/principal cannot see or do on any regular basis.

This is a catch-22 situation with teachers. They want to be held to the standard of being paid professionals but many do not want the burden of accountability that is held by other paid professionals in other industries. When districts must pay off incompetent teachers with buy out programs and competent teachers leave the field because they are not adequately recognized, then all parties from the federal Department of Education down to the local district needs to be overhauled. This includes some of the largest roadblocks--the AFT and local teachers associations.

I have participated in voluntary peer coaching and found it valuable as a way to improve my teaching. But as far as evaluations go, whether they are done by a colleague or administrator, they should be used as a way of helping a teacher to improve and not a system for gotcha's. I had a principal who nit picked everything, she had to find some negative no matter how small. Then at the end of the year she brought up issues that had never been brought to my attention and some things that were totally false. I had no way to counter her accusations as some things had happened several months prior and I no longer had any way to rectify them. As far as the false accusations it was her word against mine. She went solely on student behavior and my stress with having the worse class on campus. All the other teachers acknowledged that I had to deal with behavior that no one teacher should ever have to deal with. The administrator never looked at my student scores, which were the second highest of my grade level team. She just penalized me for standing up to her and requesting help with a very difficult group of students. I ended up giving up my tenure because of this principal. That year 14 of us, including support staff left that school. All because of this one administrator. What bothers me about the process of teacher review is that it is as artificial as standardized testing is for evaluating students. Looking at 2-3 isolated lessons and using that as a basis of how a teacher preforms all year long does not look at the whole picture. Student growth, classroom environment, teacher involvement in the school as a whole, and many other factors should be taken into account when evaluating whether someone is a good teacher or not. This year I had another difficult class and many difficult parents, but the difference was that my new principal looked at my overall performance when evaluating me. Her comment was that she knew I was doing the best I could given the difficult situation I was working in. She also took into account that I was willing to grow as a professional, that I was highly involved with my grade level team, and worked hard to be th best teacher I could be. That was so refreshing as a teacher! My past administrator would have crucified me!

When powerful national education organizations create new policies or modify existing ones, the effect on local programs can be profound. Such was the case when on September 25-27, 1998, the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) joined together in Washington D.C. for a Conference on Teacher Quality. At that conference, the two organizations introduced the joint AFT/NEA Handbook, Peer Assistance & Peer Review. The Introduction to the AFT/NEA Handbook explains that “peer assistance and peer review are actually two distinct functions. Peer Assistance aims to help new and veteran teachers improve their knowledge and skills. Such a program links new teachers — or struggling veteran teachers — with consulting teachers who provide ongoing support through observing, modeling, sharing ideas and skills and recommending materials for further study.” Peer assistance is very much akin to mentoring.

The handbook goes on to say that “Peer Review adds one significant element to peer assistance — the consulting teachers conduct formal evaluations and make recommendations regarding the continued employment of participating teachers.” Peer review can profoundly alter a local mentoring program because the concept attacks one of the basic tenets of the mentor-mentee relationship: the separation of mentoring from evaluation.

From my personal point of view, a Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) program is not mentoring, nor should it be considered mentoring — it is supervision and evaluation. Trust and confidentially are vital components of mentoring. It is virtually impossible for anyone — especially a new teacher in a new environment trying to prove himself or herself — to expose insecurities and inexperience to a co-worker, and to leave oneself vulnerable to possible ridicule and censure. Yet it may be necessary for a mentee to risk these behaviors in order to help the mentor understand the crux of a situation. This degree of openness may be difficult to achieve if it is the mentor’s responsibility to evaluate the mentee or to recommend certification. The peer mentor and the peer reviewer must be different people. Such is the case, for example, in Connecticut’s PAR-like Beginning Educator Support and Training (BEST) program, which is a primary reason the program has worked so well (although the program may soon be scrapped, or modified). The trained mentor’s role in the BEST program is to help the mentee prepare for review, not to be part of it. The reviewer, or evaluator, is an entirely different person, generally from a different school district, who has been trained for that entirely different role.

Since the NEA and AFT together represent the vast majority of public school teachers in the United States, their policies deeply influence day-to-day operations in the nation’s public schools. The new teacher induction and peer review policies adopted by both organizations and advocated in the PAR Handbook are no exceptions. Consequently, it is not surprising that some districts have developed PAR programs.

It is prudent for districts considering instituting a PAR program not only to do so in collaboration with the local teachers union, but as the AFT/NEA handbook points out, also to decide 1) to what extent the program will entail formal evaluation by peers; and 2) which teachers the program will serve? Will it serve all new teachers; only new teachers with problems; or veteran teachers identified as needing remediation?

Some districts instituted peer assistance and peer review well before its endorsement by the teacher unions, the first being Toledo in 1981. Toledo’s program, as is the case with most that followed, provided PAR both to new teachers and to veteran teachers who were experiencing difficulties in the classroom. Several medium and large cities including Boston, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New York City, and Rochester, have joined Toledo in instituting PAR, but no state has mandated it.

Reviews of the effectiveness of PAR and how it has been received by the education community are mixed. For instance, According to the Ohio State Department of Education, the Columbus Public School District has a lower rate of attrition than similar districts because of PAR, and the Ohio DOE awarded Columbus’s PAR program its Distinguished Award for Excellence in Staff Development. California’s Poway Unified School District’s PAR program has been in existence since 1987. Teachers and administrators are in agreement that the program has given new teachers much-welcome help and removed some who “belonged in another profession.”
Among the most vocal critics of PAR is former labor negotiator, Myron Lieberman. In his 1998 book Teachers Evaluating Teachers: Peer Review and the New Unionism, Lieberman contends that teacher evaluation is the province of administrators, and that teachers are placed in the awkward position of judging their colleagues down the hall who are teaching the same students they teach. Another critic of the process is a teacher with whom I recently had a conversation about peer review. He argued that “when your colleague steps into your classroom to ‘review’ you, he or she is no longer your peer. Rather the relationship between you has fundamentally changed.”

I believe that peer reviews are fine as long as there are two reviewers. They should be as qualified as the teacher under review. Any disagreement between the two reviews or any "action" considered should be discussed at a meeting with a supervisor/ administrator.

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Recent Comments

  • Theresa: I believe that peer reviews are fine as long as read more
  • Hal Portner: When powerful national education organizations create new policies or modify read more
  • Grace: I have participated in voluntary peer coaching and found it read more
  • Gunnhild: As in any other business (yes, education is a business), read more
  • Carolyn: There must be more to the story...surely a teacher cannot read more




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