Is Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) a Worthy Investment?

A lot of the focus in education policy discussion is on teacher quality.  More specifically, education reforms tied to Race to the Top attempt to improve the way teachers are evaluated, often through the use of value-added modeling. While value-added modeling may not offer much significant differentiation among teachers, it is relied upon in states like Tennessee to make up a significant portion of a teacher’s evaluation.

In Tennessee, recent policy changes include a new teacher evaluation system (started in 2011) and a mandate that school districts adopt merit pay schemes.

What’s missing, it seems, is a focus on how to help new teachers get off to a good start and how to improve the teaching of veteran teachers who may be struggling.

Teachers I talk to like the idea of a peer support or peer evaluation system, viewing evaluations from peers as superior to value-added scores or even administrator feedback.  A few districts across the country have full-fledged Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) systems in place.  After reading descriptions of and analysis about these programs, I believe they hold promise as a means of both helping new teachers and improving the practice of veteran teachers.  Of course, they also have the benefit of providing a teacher-based means of counseling out those for whom teaching may not (or may no longer) be a good fit.

The one catch is the apparent cost, but if districts and states want to improve teaching as a means of improving student outcomes, the investment is surely worth it.

This Harvard Guide looks at seven PAR programs and discusses their impact. The bottom line is that the programs are generally well-received by both teachers and administrators and demonstrate a level of effectiveness at both preparing new teachers and improving veteran teachers.

Here are a few key takeaways:

Districts with PAR programs say that, although the program can be expensive, it has many important benefits. PAR’s mentoring component helps beginning teachers succeed and, thus, increases retention. PAR also makes it possible to help ineffective tenured teachers improve or to dismiss them without undue delay and cost because of the program’s clear assessment process and the labor-management collaboration that underpins it. This process of selective retention can lead to a stronger teaching force and promote an organizational culture focused on sound teaching practice. Union leaders say that the program professionalizes teaching by making teachers responsible for mentoring and evaluating their peers. With its specialized roles for Consulting Teachers (CTs), PAR also has the potential to differentiate the work and career opportunities of teachers.

So, increased retention, improved teaching, an easier dismissal process for those who don’t improve.  The study also notes that most district leaders believed the PAR program paid for itself by both increasing retention and shortening the dismissal process.

For more on PAR and how it works, Larry Ferlazzo offers these resources.

For more on education policy in the states, follow @TheAndySpears

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