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Peer Assistance and Review Website Launched

The Project on the Next Generation of Teachers (NGT) at the Harvard Graduate School of Education today launched a website dedicated to informing and advising policymakers and school districts with an interest in Peer Assistance and Review (PAR). 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. The website, "A User's Guide to Peer Assistance and Review," synthesizes the findings of research in seven districts that have PAR and offers the most comprehensive information available about PAR and its outcomes.

"Many people have heard of PAR, but don't know how the program works or how it differs from district to district. We want to help people understand PAR, its potential, its challenges, its costs and its benefits," says project director Professor Susan Moore Johnson, M.A.T.'69, Ed.D.'81.

Since its inception in Toledo, Ohio, more than 25 years ago, PAR has received national attention and has spread to dozens of school districts across the country. Despite growing interest in PAR, this represents the first in-depth, cross-site analysis available about the design options and lessons learned by PAR districts. The website provides easy access to the information and analysis that districts need in deciding whether to adopt PAR and how to design their programs.

"In starting a PAR program, districts are not just adopting a template but rather searching for the right structure and components that will work for them and their district," Johnson explains.

Increasingly, policymakers, district officials, and union leaders have pointed to PAR as a promising component of an effective human capital strategy, fueling interest and initiatives across the country. With the estimated number of programs at fewer than 50, Johnson notes that it can be expensive and difficult to initiate and maintain such a program. However, NGT's research found that district and union officials experience real payoff from having an effective PAR program — higher retention rates among new teachers, selective decisions about tenure, a professional culture focused on high standards for teaching, targeted assistance for struggling teachers, and a path to dismissal that does not end in costly arbitration and court cases.

In 2007-08, NGT interviewed 155 key stakeholders in seven school districts: Cincinnati, Ohio; Minneapolis, Minn.; Montgomery County, Md.; Rochester, N.Y.; San Juan, Calif.; Syracuse, N.Y.; and Toledo, Ohio. Researchers on the project included advanced doctoral students Sarah Fiarman, Ed.M.'05; Mindy Sick Munger, Ed.M.'01; John Papay, Ed.M.'05; and Emily Kalejs Qazilbash, Ed.M.'97. The research and creation of the website were supported by grants from Katharine and Al Merck and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

About Project on the Next Generation of Teachers:

Based at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the Project on the Next Generation of Teachers is a multiyear research project that addresses critical questions regarding the future of our nation's teaching force. NGT, led by Professor Susan Moore Johnson, examines issues related to attracting, supporting, and retaining quality teachers in U.S. public schools.