What is PAR?
“I’m a real supporter of PAR. I think it saves careers. The whole idea is to provide the help a teacher needs, and if they can’t step up to the plate, then they really shouldn’t be there.”
—San Juan Principal
PAR, the brainchild of union president Dal Lawrence, was developed in the early 1980s in Toledo, OH. In PAR, the local teachers union and district administrators jointly manage a program to improve teacher quality by having expert teachers mentor and evaluate their peers. In the past 25 years, other districts have relied on the “Toledo Plan” as their model for PAR, adapting it to meet their local needs. Today PAR is well-established in a small number of districts nationwide, although it hasn’t been adopted widely. That isn’t surprising, since it’s no simple matter to adopt an effective PAR program. PAR challenges most people’s expectations about what teachers and principals should do. It requires unusual collaboration between the union and administration. It must be grounded in a systematic approach to teacher evaluation. And it involves a substantial financial investment. However, the potential payoff of an effective PAR program is great. Increasingly, policymakers, district officials, and union leaders have pointed to PAR as a promising component of an effective human capital strategy, thus fueling interest and initiatives across the country.
A novice teacher in Toledo
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.
PAR programs typically have several common elements drawn from Toledo’s early model. Most have two components, one for novice teachers and one for ineffective experienced teachers. A joint labor-management committee, usually called the PAR Panel, runs the program and selects a group of expert teachers to serve as CTs. These CTs, who are the heart of PAR, support and assess teachers in the program. More
In designing a PAR program, districts must decide whether to include novices, experienced teachers or both. Including both groups from the start integrates PAR more centrally into the district’s overall strategy, although this may be more difficult to do politically, cost more, and require greater capacity among staff to serve as CTs. More