How does PAR work?
PAR programs take their main structures from the Toledo Plan. Although the details vary, most programs contain several common elements. A joint labor-management committee, usually called the PAR Panel, typically runs the program. Expert teachers, often called CTs, support and evaluate teachers in the program. The programs usually include different procedures for novice and veteran teachers. They also alter the traditional responsibilities of principals for teacher evaluation.
• PAR Panel
The PAR Panel is a joint labor-management group that runs the program. It designs or refines the program’s components, manages the budget, and is responsible for selecting, training, and supervising CTs. The Panel holds regular meetings where CTs present their assessments of teachers and make recommendations about their future employment. Panel members listen to these presentations, question the CTs, and eventually decide whether to recommend that the district retain or dismiss the teachers. The PAR Panel includes representatives from both the teachers union and administration. Most districts include an equal number from each group or, in some cases, a slight majority of teachers. Representatives from the union and administration either co-chair the meetings or alternate as chair.
• Consulting Teachers
Consulting teachers, who typically are known and respected as expert teachers, mentor new teachers and assist low-performing veteran teachers. They are chosen through a competitive selection process conducted by the PAR Panel. In most districts, CTs are released full-time from classroom teaching for three to five years and are responsible for a caseload of 10 to 20 teachers. They earn a substantial yearly stipend ($3,000 to $10,000) in addition to their regular pay. A few programs use part-time CTs , who split their responsibilities between PAR and classroom teaching or carry out their PAR work on top of a full-time teaching load. The CTs observe their teachers at work and provide the support they think will help them succeed in meeting the district’s standards. They also conduct formal observations and keep detailed records about each teacher’s performance. Based on these assessments, the CTs write comprehensive reports, documenting each teacher’s progress in meeting the district’s standards. They present their reports to the PAR Panel and in most districts recommend whether the teachers in their caseload should be rehired or dismissed.
NOTE: Districts have various names for the CT role (e.g., Intern Consultant, Mentor, Teacher Evaluator).
• Novice Program
In most districts, PAR serves as the induction program for new teachers. In addition to providing advice on instruction and classroom management, the CTs help their novices set up their classrooms, secure class supplies, and navigate the first year of teaching. They provide detailed feedback and support to help their novices meet the district’s standards and they assess their progress. In most cases, the CTs provide a preliminary report of their novices’ progress to the PAR Panel several months into the school year. Then, in the Spring, they provide a summary assessment, reporting whether the teacher has met the district standards and, in most cases, recommending whether or not the novice teacher should be rehired.
• Intervention Program
“There is incredible power in having the president of the teachers association and several teachers in the room saying, ‘[This teacher’s ] behavior isn’t acceptable. We’ve got to make a change.’”
—San Juan Panel Member
Most districts also include low-performing experienced teachers in their PAR program. CTs provide intensive support and assistance to teachers on Intervention. If they progress satisfactorily, the CT recommends to the Panel that they be released from PAR. However, if the teachers don’t improve, they can be dismissed. Usually, it’s the principal who refers an experienced teacher to Intervention, although in some districts an unsatisfactory evaluation automatically triggers a referral. Most districts allow teachers to refer their peers to PAR, although this rarely happens. Once a teacher has been recommended for Intervention, the Panel typically assigns a CT to investigate whether the teacher is meeting the district’s instructional standards. If the teacher is found to be failing, the Panel assigns a CT to the case. As with novice programs, the CT works closely with the experienced teacher, providing assistance and assessing progress. In most districts, Intervention is an open-ended process which may last up to two years. The teacher remains in PAR until she has met district standards and can be released from the program or until the Panel decides she is not making enough progress and should be dismissed. Intervention is a high-stakes process, which lays out a path to dismissal and challenges veteran teachers’ assumptions about job security under state tenure laws.
Principals or assistant principals traditionally are the only ones responsible for evaluating teachers. That changes when a district adopts PAR and CTs evaluate some teachers. Having CTs assist with evaluation may open time for the principal to focus on other aspects of school leadership and increase the school’s capacity to support teachers. In addition, PAR eliminates the need for principals to single-handedly undertake the long process of removing ineffective teachers. However, some principals respond to PAR as a threat to their authority and either oppose or resist it. Over time, however, principals often come to accept and appreciate PAR, especially when they see the quality of work that the CTs do. Importantly, in most districts, PAR’s Intervention component cannot work effectively without principals’ support and participation in referring struggling teachers.