This article is excerpted from Dr. Lieberman's recent book, titled, TEACHERS EVALUATING TEACHERS: Peer Review and the New Unionism.* Chapter 8 is included in its entirety, along with brief excerpts from other chapters.
Only in recent years has public opinion seriously considered the possibility that the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) are obstacles to reform. In response, the NEA and AFT claim to be forging a "new union," partly as a response to criticisms of their excessive zeal in defending incompetent teachers (to include those guilty of egregious moral conduct). The "new union" (or "new unionism") is not a clearly defined program or change in the NEA/AFT governance structure. Instead, it is supposedly a change in the role of the teacher unions, especially with respect to teachers who are performing poorly.
"Peer review" is the most prominent feature of the new unionism. At a National Press Club address in February 1997, Robert F. Chase, president of the NEA, asserted that educational quality would now be the highest NEA priority. The primary means for effectuating this new priority was to be "peer review."
Although it has not been defined precisely, "peer review" is widely understood to encompass various procedures by which teachers and their unions would exercise more responsibility for improving teacher performance as well as for terminating the services of teachers who do not perform adequately after receiving assistance.
Peer review is thus utilized for three different purposes:
- First, it is a procedure culminating in decisions to renew or not renew the contracts of first-year teachers (i.e., interns).
- Second, it is a procedure leading up to decisions about tenured teachers who are not performing adequately.
- Third, it is to provide assistance to teachers without any implication of adverse action; a teacher wants help and peer review is the process used to provide it.
Unions Use Collective Bargaining to Create Peer Review Programs
The new unionism proposes to utilize collective bargaining as the vehicle for initiating and implementing educational reforms such as peer review. For this reason, it is essential to understand the relationships between peer review and collective bargaining. The issue is not whether collective bargaining does or does not affect educational reform, but how it does so and what are the limits, if any, to collective bargaining as the vehicle of reform.
Peer review has not emerged outside of states and school districts in which teachers bargain collectively. One reason is that peer review has been a union initiative, and NEA/AFT affiliates have more leverage in states and districts that have authorized teachers to bargain collectively. Another reason is that school management must assume certain contractual obligations as part of a peer review plan. It is very difficult if not practically impossible to require management to fulfill these obligations outside of collective bargaining situations.
Although collective bargaining makes peer review possible, it also poses some major legal and practical problems in implementing peer review. For example, the teacher unions, like other unions, bargain over "terms and conditions of employment." Despite some legal uncertainties about what this covers, and variations in the state bargaining laws, some features of peer review ostensibly conflict with collective bargaining statutes.
Setting up the Peer Review Process
To begin the peer review process in a school district, the school district and the union usually establish a Board of Review comprised of several teachers appointed by the union and several school administrators. This Board chooses and monitors the work of the "consulting teachers" (i.e., the teachers who visit classrooms to observe and evaluate teachers subject to peer review), and gives to the Superintendent of Schools its recommendation regarding the future employment status of interns. The Board also recommends what action is to be taken with respect to tenured teachers who are subject to intervention. Although the Superintendent then makes his own recommendations to the board of education, no superintendent in the Toledo, Ohio school district--the most highly publicized peer review school district--had rejected a recommendation of the Board of Review as of the fall of 1997.1
The consulting teachers who directly evaluate the teachers are recruited from the regular teaching staff. Typically, applicants must complete an application form and submit recommendations attesting to the quality of their teaching from:
1. their building representative (that is, a teacher who acts as a union representative for a particular school);
2. their principal; and
3. three other teachers in their school.
Obviously, this requirement raises some important issues, such as the prospects for outstanding teachers who are not union members or are opposed to the union leadership.
The consulting teachers are appointed by the co-chairs of the Board of Review for a three-year nonrenewable term. In effect, this means that the administration and the union each have a veto power over candidates. Other peer review districts have similar but not identical provisions.
Consulting teachers are usually relieved of their regular teaching duties so they can devote their time to assisting interns. The average load of consulting teachers may vary considerably. For example, in the peer review program in Toledo, Ohio, the average load of consulting teachers is nine interns--fewer if the teacher is also responsible for a teacher in the intervention program. In contrast, the consulting teacher workload in the Columbus, Ohio peer review program is eighteen interns, or fifteen in addition to one intervention case.
Virtually every phase of peer review is affected by whether probationary or tenured teachers are involved. When probationary teachers are involved, the requirements for nonrenewal are typically not as rigorous; the criteria for not hiring a teacher are not as demanding as the criteria for terminating an experienced one.
The implications of peer review for tenured teachers should not be overlooked. In Toledo, more than 1,100 tenured teachers out of a total staff of about 2,500 are never evaluated, unless some complaint is made. In 1997, some had not been evaluated since 1970.
Clearly, most of the resources in the peer review plans are devoted to assisting and evaluating first-year teachers. The most important question would seem to be: What difference, if any, does peer review make in the proportion and quality of first-year teachers offered reemployment? Thus far, the data reveal no significant difference between conventional and peer review procedures.
Principals vs. Consulting Teachers
(or Conventional vs. Peer Review Procedures)
The conventional procedure for teacher review is for the principal to review the performance of the teachers in his or her school. Any decision made on the basis of the review is viewed as a management decision.
The teacher unions, in contrast, support peer review on the grounds that they have the responsibility to help incompetent teachers or guide them into another field. The unions seek to implement their newly discovered responsibility by union co-determination of what were formerly regarded as management decisions. Such co-determination is likely to erode, not raise, the standards for teaching positions. The reason is that teachers are not likely to impose high standards that could boomerang against themselves. We can see this in the fact that tenured teachers are seldom evaluated in the leading peer review districts.
The underlying issue is whether the teacher unions should exercise managerial functions, or whether they can drop their excessive obstruction of managerial performance of managerial functions without compromising their role as protector of employee interests.
Peer review raises several issues with respect to principals.
· Are consulting teachers more qualified than principals to evaluate new teachers?
· To what extent do the recommendations of principals differ from those of consulting teachers, and how are such differences resolved?
· What is the impact of peer review on the principal's authority and leadership position?
In conventional evaluation by principals, the absence of accountability is not due to a deficiency in the administrative structure. When a principal evaluates teachers poorly, but without any adverse consequences to the principal, the solution may be a change in personnel, or a change in union programs that make it difficult to impose disciplinary action. The lack of accountability under peer review, however, is built into the structure.
Theoretically, consulting teachers are accountable to the Board of Review (by whatever title), but the Board has no way of monitoring the work of consulting teachers. It can transfer a consulting teacher back to the classroom, but this means only that the worst thing that can happen to a consulting teacher is to get his or her job back at the regular salary.
Union and Teacher Self-Interest
In peer review, people find it easy to convert their interests into principles. Assume that a district is spending $100,000 annually to evaluate and assist new teachers. Assume also that this amount must be drastically increased to provide adequate time for observation, assistance, and evaluation. What plan would most teachers prefer?
· A plan in which the district increases its budget for administration evaluators, resulting in more administrators in more teachers' classrooms? Or,
· A plan whereby a large number of teachers who must be approved by a union will receive a substantial stipend for three years while evaluating new teachers--work that is more attractive than classroom teaching for most teachers.
On the record, the literature on peer review ignores the self-interest of consulting teachers and their unions. These senior teachers are usually a dominant force, if not the controlling one, in the teacher unions, just as the senior members of unions in other fields. If the literature on peer review had confronted this issue in a realistic way, one might have more confidence in the case for peer review. As matters stand, however, the unions indignantly decry the efforts to portray teachers as money-hungry pedagogues who care only about their paychecks. As erroneous as this would be, it is not more so than the portrayal of teachers as totally unaffected by the compensation issues in peer review. We must also consider the union stake in peer review. As will be evident, the union stake overlaps with the teacher stake, but is far from identical with it.
Union Control over Peer Review
A realistic evaluation of peer review plans must recognize that they greatly strengthen a union's control over its members, especially potential dissidents. First, the union exercises a veto power over the selection of consulting teachers. Overt opposition to the union is reduced because such opposition may jeopardize one's prospects for tenure or for the appointment as a consulting teacher. Even if the union members of the Board of Review evaluate candidates solely on the basis of their professional performance, the candidates themselves will often fear that the union members of the Board will evaluate nonunion or antiunion candidates more harshly.
Indeed, the fact that the consulting teachers must be recommended by their building union representative is another troubling feature of the most prominent peer review plans. The building representatives are not appointed or elected because of superior insight into teaching. Their functions are to hold union meetings at the schools, receive and process grievances, keep members informed about union activities, and convey teacher views to the leadership echelons of the union. Again, regardless of the purity of individual motives, there is a coercive element in the situation. Furthermore, the potential dissident lacks the resources to oppose the union in these situations.
Interestingly enough, the teacher unions have opposed merit pay on the grounds that it would be utilized to reward antiunion teachers. Can we assume that a plan controlled in large part by the union, or, minimally, subject to its veto power, will show no animus against antiunion teachers? The assumption that school administrators are biased against union activists, but union activists are not biased against antiunion teachers, may appeal to union members, but it is hardly persuasive.
It is easy to visualize National Education Association (NEA) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT) reactions to these criticisms. Since they have invested a great deal in portraying peer review as a major step toward educational improvement, a new role for unions, and union assumptions of professional status, it is very unlikely that the unions will publicly acknowledge any merit in the foregoing criticisms. Privately, some will; some already have. The official line, though, is likely to be as follows: First, we were criticized for being overly protective of incompetent teachers. Now, we are being criticized for union efforts to help beginning teachers or guide them out of the profession. No matter what we do, we can't satisfy right-wing extremists who are determined to destroy public education.
NEA Retains Influence by Avoiding "Union" Label
Although such a response does not address the specific criticisms set forth here, consider this paradox: Most citizens have a negative view of unions. At the same time, most have a favorable attitude toward the NEA. The explanation is not that the NEA is considered to be "a good union." It is that the NEA is not perceived as a union at all. If it were, its prestige would experience a substantial decline. One can argue about the proportion of citizens who have a negative view of unions, but there is no doubt that the NEA enjoys a much higher favorable rating than unions generally because the association is not widely perceived as a union.
The "new union" must, therefore, be understood in this context. When the United Auto Workers (UAW) or Teamsters strike, no one doubts that the intended beneficiaries are auto workers and teamsters. When teachers strike, it is allegedly for the benefit of children. Teacher union success in promoting teacher welfare as pupil welfare is phenomenal. The taxpayer dilemma that arises is similar to the one that arises in efforts to discourage welfare mothers from bearing additional children. How can we encourage responsible adult behavior without hurting innocent children?
For a time, the NEA took pride in a kind of in-your-face unionism to persuade teachers that the association was a tough union, not a weak imitation of the AFT. Here and there, one sees a residual of this pose, but the word is out: Down with any language that connotes "union"; up with anything that connotes pupil welfare or "profession." This is the strategic environment in which the new union was conceived and has emerged. If significant changes had really taken place, the fact that various pressures triggered them would not be important. The question is: What are the changes in NEA/AFT personnel, budget and policies that are the result of the "new union" initiative? Whatever they are, they clearly do not involve significant changes in union personnel or budgets, or in the unions' program. Failure to raise this issue is a major deficiency in the media's treatment of the "new union."
Reviewing Public School District Contracts: Some Observations
Authorities on collective bargaining emphasize the importance of evaluating contractual provisions in the light of the entire contract. This caveat applies in two ways. First, the implications of any contractual provision may be crucially affected by other provisions. For example, a broad definition of "grievance" will be less troublesome if the grievance procedure does not culminate in binding arbitration; a narrower definition of grievance may be very troublesome in a contract with binding arbitration and brief time limits for management to respond.
A review of contractual provisions in the context of the entire contract is essential for another reason. Frequently, we want to know the philosophical or strategic orientation of the contract as a whole. Is it based on a strong management rights perspective? Or co-management by the union? Or clearly defined tradeoffs between these extremes? The entire contract often provides a context that affects evaluation of specific provisions.
The Toledo Federation of Teachers Contract: Some Observations
What light, if any, is shed upon peer review by a review of the entire contract in peer review districts? Before responding to this question by reviewing peer review in Toledo, Ohio--a leading peer review district--some data on the Toledo school district will be helpful. In 1995, the Toledo school district:
· Served approximately 38,500 students, down from a high of 60,000 in the 1960s and 1970s.
· Operated 48 elementary, eight junior high (grades 7-8), and eight high schools (grades 9-12).
· Employed 4,400 employees.
· Negotiated with unions representing nine different bargaining units. The Toledo Federation of Teachers (TFT) represents 2,500 in the teacher unit, 360 in the substitute teacher unit, and 370 in the paraprofessional unit. The Toledo Association of Administrative Personnel (TAAP) represents 320 employees. There were five separate American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) locals as follows:
|AFSCME||Members||# of Employees|
|Local 249||custodians and hall monitors||235|
|Local 2174||clerical and technical employees||375|
|Local 272||building operations, skilled trades||170|
|Local 840||food service employees||280-300|
|Local 2853||transportation employees||180-200|
· Only 14 district employees were not represented by a union in 1995.
· The total budget for the district was $220 million.
One issue raised by these data relates to the number of teachers required to operate a peer review program. Ideally, the consulting teachers teach the same grade level and subject as the interns. When teachers evaluate the subject matter competence of teachers in different subjects and grade levels, there can be major problems, especially since subject-matter competence is an important criterion in the peer review process. Nevertheless, even in a district as large as Toledo, consulting teachers cannot always be recruited from the same grade level or subject being taught by the teachers subject to peer review.
Obviously, the smaller the district in terms of personnel, the more difficult it is to recruit consulting teachers with an appropriate background. For instance, suppose a district employs only one physics teacher who is about to retire. Even if the teacher met the criteria to be a consulting teacher, it would be prohibitively expensive for the teacher to mentor his or her replacement. The lack of mentoring experience and opportunity to work with other mentors is a negative factor that can lead to conflict. We cannot say that a district must employ a specified number of teachers to conduct a peer review program; we can say, however, that as the number of teachers employed by the district is reduced, more negatives emerge. At some point, which may differ from district to district, the negatives simply become prohibitive.
The upshot is to undermine further the claim that peer review is the way for teachers to raise standards for entry to teaching. The doctors, lawyers, and dentists who practice in small school districts have passed a state examination applicable to all parties in the state seeking to practice these professions. Even in the most optimistic scenario, peer review cannot function to prevent large numbers of teachers from being certified as regular teachers outside the peer review process.
For purposes of discussion, however, let us assume that there is no size-of-district problem in Toledo. Nonetheless, the union/school district contracts in peer review districts strongly suggest that peer review emerges only in districts that allow the union to co-manage the district. In Toledo, the union exercises a de facto veto power over most educational policies as well as personnel functions.
These are not only my conclusions, based on a study of the 224-page Toledo Federation of Teachers (TFT) contract; they are also the conclusions of knowledgeable authorities who conducted an intensive review of the TFT contract, in conjunction with extensive interviews with school board members, administrators, and officers of the seven unions representing district employees. The study compared the TFT contract with the teacher contracts in Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Youngstown, all urban Ohio districts to which Toledo is often compared. The study director was R. Theodore Clark, Jr., one of the country's leading authorities on public-sector bargaining and a past president of the National Public Employer Labor Relations Association (NPELRA)--the national organization of public employer representatives in labor negotiations.
The study, which Clark co-authored with Robert C. Long, included the following comments, quoted in part, under the heading of "Reasons for Optimism":
Talented and Experienced Union Leadership -- Presently, the school system appears to have union leaders with many years of experience, considerable credibility and strength, and the depth of vision and understanding to know that "business as usual" will not serve the long-term interests of their members nor is it the direction in which labor needs to move if labor wants to continue to play a significant role in the school system.
Successful Examples of Labor Management Cooperation in the Toledo Public Schools -- Among the initiatives that labor and management both point to with some pride are the Intern and Intervention programs begun in 1981 with the TFT, a number of similar mentoring, evaluation, and management training programs initiated by TAAP, and the recent initiatives with site-based management schools.2
Despite these positive comments, the Long/Clark report is a devastating analysis of the collective bargaining agreements in the Toledo school district. Long and Clark summarized the "highlights" of their study, included in part below, that "have the greatest impact on student achievement and better use of taxpayer resources":
1. Restrictive Management Rights Provisions -- The typical collective bargaining agreement with the Toledo Public School (TPS) system has:
· No management rights clause or one of little value;
· Broad provisions freezing all past practices and policies not referenced in the contract;
· An extremely broad definition of the term "grievance" such that issues going well beyond the scope of the collective bargaining agreement can be submitted to the grievance and arbitration procedure;
· Provisions restricting the right to subcontract, including a successors and assigns clause in the AFSCME contract;
· Vague or limiting provisions regarding management's right to lay off employees;
· No provision terminating management's duty to bargain with the union during the term of the collective bargaining agreement (a so-called "zipper clause").
2. Restrictions On Outside Recruitment -- The TFT agreements are structured so that it is virtually impossible to obtain a regular full-time teaching position with the school district without first serving a period of time as a substitute teacher, thus effectively excluding from serious consideration applicants for teaching positions who are coming straight out of college or who are thinking of transferring from another school district, unless such applicants are willing to "wait their turn" in the substitute teacher apprenticeship route....This shuts out most teachers who do not presently live in the Toledo area.
3. Job Assignments and Transfers Are Overly Dependent On Seniority -- Job assignments and transfers are dependent almost entirely on seniority considerations .... For example, the seniority-driven system creates a situation where it is possible that a high school may not be able to have a male physical education teacher. Similarly, it is often not possible to match up the particular schools' combined needs for teaching assignments and talents necessary for extracurricular programs of importance, whether they be debate, drama, athletics, or the like .... Similarly, when new innovative programs are devised, there is no way to ensure that the enthusiasts will be assigned to those programs, as they may not have the seniority to bid into those new opportunities. In addition, school principals have virtually no say in who the building secretary will be, as those placements are driven by a seniority-based bidding system.
Even where the seniority-based assignment and transfer system places qualified candidates in logical positions, it does so often at the extraordinary expense of causing a domino reshuffling effect that includes a series of job bumping, vacancy and bidding cycles that can continue for months .... Based upon enrollment changes that may trigger a change in staffing levels, a whole series of job displacements can be unleashed, creating enormous inefficiency for a considerable period of time while employees exercise bumping rights to switch to new assignments at different schools for different supervisors. An example of this is the so-called "Bump Day" under the AFSCME secretarial contract unit where, during the first week of August each year, anywhere from 85 to 150 of the 375 members of that bargaining unit are reshuffled to new assignments.
4. [Overly Generous and Counterproductive Benefits] -- (I)t is our sense that the Toledo Public Schools (TPS) pay unusually generous benefits to both full-time and part-time employees outside of the base wage schedule. Illustrative of these fringe benefits and off-schedule payments are the following:
· Excessive time off provisions and loose controls on the use of many paid leaves, with the result of significant absenteeism problems in certain bargaining units.
· An extraordinary array of fringe benefits for part-time employees, including full benefits for those working 20 hours or more a week in many instances and partial benefits for those working fewer hours.
· The second highest workers' compensation claims rates of any school district in the state.
· Generous severance pay plan through the buyout of sick leave benefits upon termination of employment.
· Full compensation to all employees who do not work on "calamity" or "inclement weather" days, with the requirement that management pay twice for employees who work on such days. Moreover, if more than five such days are missed in a year, the school district is not only required to pay the employees to stay at home for those five days, but also to pay employees extra to make up a day to meet state attendance day requirements. Such an additional make-up day would cost the district approximately $1 million per day.
6. Inadequate Control Over Staffing Levels And Job Descriptions -- While it is common for unions to have the right to negotiate over the effects of significant changes in the scope of job functions, the TPS agreements appear to give unions a virtual veto over any proposed change in job functions and assignments.
7. Principals Have Inadequate Authority And Responsibility -- The principal's job has been demeaned and trivialized by the collective bargaining agreements that govern innumerable management functions and decisions. Principals have minimal power and authority to direct the work of AFSCME employees at their buildings, and have little or no say about who works at their particular school, whether they be teachers, AFSCME employees or even their own secretary .... Principals have a minimal role in evaluating and mentoring teachers, and have little or no say in selecting the teachers who will work at their schools, except in the few site-based management schools where this entire situation is being changed.
8. Inadequate Means To Motivate and Reward Exceptional Performance -- There are inadequate means in the existing collective bargaining agreements to motivate and reward exceptional performance.
9. Collective Bargaining Agreements Are Unnecessarily Laden With Day-to-Day Trivia -- It is unnecessary to have provisions in collective bargaining agreements stating that the coffee pots in teacher lounges will have automatic shut-off switches, yet innumerable day-to-day matters like this have become the subject of collective bargaining and have been memorialized in contractual provisions. When day-to-day administrative details become common place in collective bargaining agreements, it invites individuals who would normally be held accountable for performance to throw up their hands and disclaim responsibility for what the system is producing or how it works, with the argument (often well-founded, unfortunately) that they simply don't have enough control. This process ... also creates anomalous and probably unintended situations that are extremely frustrating to the individuals involved, such as an arrangement whereby a principal's work schedule is different than the work schedule of his or her secretary.
10. The School Day Is Too Short -- Many interviewees commented that the school day for students, teachers, principals and staff at the schools is too short and should be lengthened. This point was certainly borne out by our research, which reveals that Toledo has by far the shortest workday of any of the school systems we studied.
11. The AFSCME Contract Is Burdened With Too Many Job Classifications -- The AFSCME contract has numerous job classifications that are now outdated and extinct, and the job classifications that are still relevant are almost certainly stratified into far too many gradations.... At times, for example, building principles are unable to find an AFSCME maintenance employee who has authority, within the scope of their job description, to perform such simple maintenance tasks as throwing salt on the parking lot during an ice storm.
13. There Is Inadequate Long-Term Consistent Strategic Planning For Collective Bargaining By Management -- (T)here are only 14 management employees of the school district who are not represented for purposes of collective bargaining. To make matters worse, their own compensation and benefit packages historically have been tied by the Board of Education to the outcome of collective bargaining agreements with the employee unions, thus creating an unnecessary conflict of interest.
14. The Labor Contracts Discourage Flexibility and Innovation-- The labor agreements as a whole are replete with obstacles to innovation and experimentation. There are few incentives for change and innovation -- just barriers standing in the way....
The foregoing is by no means an exhaustive discussion of significant observations, but rather it represents some of the more salient issues that cut across many of the concerns we have identified with regard to the group of collective bargaining agreements and labor management relations as a whole.3
The foregoing conclusions about the union contracts in the Toledo school district underscore an important consideration. The Toledo peer review program was established and is maintained in an extremely pro-union environment. Beyond a reasonable doubt, the Toledo district has tolerated a substantial number of highly inefficient personnel policies and practices. Praise for its peer review program must be assessed in this context. As the items from the Long/Clark report on the TFT contract illustrate, the Toledo peer review program exists in a district that has subordinated student achievement and taxpayer interests to union interests to an unprecedented extent. It does not necessarily follow that the Toledo peer review program is undesirable, but the contractual environment justifies a cautious attitude toward district support for peer review programs.
Other Teacher Union Contracts
The same point applies at least to some of the other highly publicized peer review districts, especially Columbus, Ohio and Rochester, New York. Like the Toledo, Ohio contract, the Columbus contract is a long, detailed document that restricts managerial discretion in a myriad of ways; even when the district retains discretion, the requirement that it consult with the union before acting is bound to result in co-management by the Columbus Education Association (CEA).
A three year contract reached in Columbus in October 1997 continued the pattern of generous settlements. For example, although Columbus schools are open for only 180 days, the teachers are paid for 196 days, including holidays, professional meetings, parent conferences, and record-keeping. Nevertheless, Columbus teachers are eligible for 15 days of sick leave annually, available for either the teacher or the illness of a member of the teacher's family. Although the district estimated that Columbus teachers used an average of nine days of sick leave a year (one for every 20 days school was in session), the contractual resolution was to require a doctor's certificate after a teacher missed 10 days in the school year, or after a teacher missed two or more days in a row. In addition, the payments for unused sick leave were increased so that a teacher with an M.A. degree plus 30 credits and 27 years experience, who retired with 406 days of unused sick leave, would be entitled to approximately $40,000 for accumulated sick leave.
By 1997, CEA president John Grossman had outlasted nine Columbus superintendents; it is hardly surprising that he is widely regarded as the most powerful leader in the district.
In Rochester, the site of another highly publicized peer review program, community disenchantment with extremely generous union contracts led to sweeping changes in school board membership and in the superintendency.* Such facts suggest that union power, not the merits of peer review, is the main factor in its emergence.
Peer review should not be rejected because it is a union initiative and is operative only in districts characterized by an extremely strong union presence. Nonetheless, the record to date indicates that peer review has yet to take hold in other districts. This fact suggests that peer review's appeal to teachers and teacher unions does not and will not necessarily translate into an attractive initiative for school boards.
If peer review is desirable on the basis of its educational merits, we should expect that school districts would accept it even in the absence of pressure from teacher unions. Clearly, however, the "model" peer review plans are in districts with extremely powerful teacher unions. Media and professional treatment of peer review has overlooked this point, but the contracts in peer review districts confirm the fact that peer review plans are associated with highly expensive concessions to teachers and severe limitations on school management. Anyone who doubts this should review copies of the contracts in the leading peer review districts.
In the example of the Columbus, Ohio school district, the data (discussed in much further detail in the book) render it difficult to see how peer review could have made a significant difference in the quality of the teaching staff. In view of the small percentage of teachers who resigned or were denied renewal under peer review, it is highly unlikely that peer review was more effective than conventional procedures in weeding out unqualified teachers.
In the overwhelming majority of cases, the renewal recommendations that result from peer review are probably the same as those that would have resulted under conventional procedures.
For all we know, peer review keeps incompetent teachers in the classroom longer than conventional procedures did or would. It is simply assumed that the recommendations under peer review are more reliable, but that assumption is not necessarily fact. In view of the costs, which are considerable, peer review would have to display a significant margin of superiority to be justified.
In some respects, the basic issue in peer review appears to be whether it is possible to reconcile the concept of a union, legally and practically responsible for promoting the interests of its members, with the concept of a professional organization. If a professional organization is defined as one designed to protect the public, as NEA publications imply, we must bear in mind that "professional" organizations eventually become as self-serving as unions. At some points, the interests of occupational organizations conflict with the public interest; the proposition that what is good for teachers is good for the country is as absurd in education as it is in every other field.
The ultimate criterion for evaluating peer review should be its effects on student achievement related to its costs. This criterion is extremely difficult to apply. Not even the most ardent supporters of peer review have been able to cite any improvement in student achievement clearly attributable to peer review that justifies the expenditures.
* Dr. Lieberman's book is available through the Education Policy Institute, 4401-A Connecticut Avenue, NW, PMB 294, Washington, DC 20008-2322. Telephone: 202-244-7535; fax: 202-248-1581.
1Intern Intervention Evaluation, a joint publication of the Toledo School District and the Toledo Federation of Teachers (May 1996).
2 Robert C. Long and R. Theodore Clark, Jr., Evaluation of the Collective Bargaining Agreements of the Toledo Public Schools (Toledo, OH: Toledo Chamber of Commerce Community Coalition for Effective Education, September 30, 1995).