Helping Teachers Help Themselves
Last but not least, here's our friend Michael Winerip who's dug up yet another unrepresentative story bashing reform, this one making Race to the Top seem terrible:
The Montgomery County Public Schools system here has a highly regarded program for evaluating teachers, providing them extra support if they are performing poorly and getting rid of those who do not improve.
The program, Peer Assistance and Review — known as PAR — uses several hundred senior teachers to mentor both newcomers and struggling veterans. If the mentoring does not work, the PAR panel — made up of eight teachers and eight principals — can vote to fire the teacher.
Sitting in on two cases last week, I could not tell from the comments which of the panel members were teachers and which were principals. In one of the cases, 11 of the 12 panel members present voted to follow a principal's recommendation and discipline the teacher; in the other, they decided in a 10-to-2 vote to reject a principal's recommendation and support the teacher.
In the 11 years since PAR began, the panels have voted to fire 200 teachers, and 300 more have left rather than go through the PAR process, said Jerry D. Weast, the superintendent of the Montgomery County system, which enrolls 145,000 students, one-third of them from low-income families. In the 10 years before PAR, he said, five teachers were fired. "It took three to five years to build the trust to get PAR in place," he explained. "Teachers had to see we weren't playing gotcha."
Doug Prouty, the teachers' union president, said, "It wouldn't work without the level of trust we have here."
…Unfortunately, federal dollars from the Obama administration's Race to the Top program are not going where Dr. Weast and the PAR program need to go. Montgomery County schools were entitled to $12 million from Race to the Top, but Dr. Weast said he would not take the money because the grant required districts to include students' state test results as a measure of teacher quality. "We don't believe the tests are reliable," he said. "You don't want to turn your system into a test factory."
Race to the Top aims to spur student growth by improving teacher quality, which is exactly what Montgomery County is doing. Sad to say, the district is getting the right results the wrong way.
…Asked if the state could make an exception for Montgomery because of the PAR program's history of success, Dr. Grasmick said Gov. Martin O'Malley had been told that no modifications were allowed. Nor are districts permitted to appeal to federal officials, said Ann Whalen, director of the Implementation and Support Unit at the Education Department.
So here is where things stand: Montgomery's PAR program, which has worked beautifully for 11 years, is not acceptable. But the Maryland plan — which does not exist yet — meets federal standards.
Dr. Weast said a major failing of Race to the Top's teacher-evaluation system is that it is being imposed from above rather than being developed by the teachers and administrators who will use it. "People don't tear down what they help build," he said.
Maybe that is why Race to the Top has been divisive in so many places. In Maryland, teachers' unions in 22 of the 24 districts refused to sign the state's grant proposal. In New York and New Jersey, the competition has made the war between the unions and state officials even nastier.
Here's a friend's take on this article:
Not as bad as his usual stuff, but I thought it was at least positive. However, I think it's important to take it with a grain of salt - one of my friends is on the Montgomery County School Board and he told me the PAR system used to work as Winerip describes, but has become a sham. He said teachers on the PAR panels are circling the wagons and protecting their own now. The school board in Montgomery County is stacked almost entirely with union shills so there's not much that can be done about it (the county has an "apple ballot" that pretty much secures union control of the board).
Anyway, an interesting solution to teacher evaluations and the unintended consequences of RTTT.
June 5, 2011