I just read an interesting article in the NY Times, by Michael Winerip that makes more sense than anything I have ever seen regarding teacher improvement. I would like to paraphrase some of the highlights to share with others.
The Montgomery County, Maryland, Public School system has a program for evaluating teachers that is the closest thing to common sense I have ever seen. They provide teachers professional support if they are performing poorly and dismiss those who can’t or won’t improve.
Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) uses successful teachers to mentor new teachers as well as veterans having problems. If unsuccessful, the PAR panel — made up of eight teachers and eight principals — can vote to fire the teacher.
In one recent case, 11 of the 12 panel members present voted to follow a principal’s recommendation and discipline the teacher; in a second case, they decided in a 10-to-2 vote to reject a principal’s recommendation and support the teacher.
Since the PAR concept was introduced 11 years ago, 200 teachers have been dismissed, and 300 chose to leave rather than go through the PAR process. The superintendent of the Montgomery County system, which enrolls 145,000 students, stated that in the ten years before PAR 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.”
Maryland’s state superintendent of schools stated that PAR was an excellent system for professional development. The United States Department of Education has studied the program, and Montgomery County officials have gone to Washington to explain how it works.
Unfortunately, federal dollars from the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program are not going where they need to go. Montgomery County schools were entitled to $12 million from Race to the Top, but the superintendent said he would not take the money because the grant required districts to include students’ state test results as a measure of teacher quality. He does not believe the tests are reliable. He said. “You don’t want to turn your system into a test factory.” This is exactly what Governor Perry and the Texas Legislature are imposing on our teachers, which are not only sad, but a big waste of money. Sadly everyone is ignoring the students.
Race to the Top was designed to improve our student’s education by improving teacher quality. That is exactly what Montgomery County is doing. Sad to say, the district is getting the right results the wrong way. Common sense moved out of Washington D.C. and now it is moving out of Austin Texas.
84 percent of Montgomery County students go on to college and 63 percent receives degrees. This is what President Obama said was a true measure of academic success. 2.5 percent of all black children in America who pass an Advanced Placement test live in Montgomery County, more than five times its share of the nation’s black population.
12 states that were awarded the billions of dollars in Race to the Top grants are using student scores as a measure of teachers’ worth. The US Department of Education appears gratified that Race to the Top money has pressured states to adopt this senseless approach to measure anything. The Maryland state superintendent said the administration made it clear that if a state wanted to win a grant, the proposal had to include a formula for calculating student growth. Maryland toed the line and was awarded $250 million.
The state requested an exception for Montgomery because of the PAR program’s history of success and was told that no modifications were allowed. Districts are not permitted to appeal to federal officials, said the director of the Implementation and Support Unit at the U.S. Department of Education.
So, 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. This is irresponsible leadership and a waste of education funding. Who loses the students?
The major fallacy 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.
Governor Perry and the hand full of legislators who are micromanaging Texas education should visit a PAR meeting. That would be a common sense approach, long ago ignored by politicians.