A User's Guide to

Peer Assistance and Review

  • What is PAR?
  • Costs and benefits of PAR
  • Designing your PAR project
  • Labor-management relations
  • Practical issues and advice

Getting Started

captionToledo CT confers with a new teacher

Can PAR be adopted at the bargaining table?

An effective PAR program can’t emerge from traditional bargaining, assembled piece by piece as each side wins some points and loses others. The program won’t work if it’s simply a list of compromises reached by splitting the difference between extreme demands. In fact, that approach to adopting PAR would contradict one of its core features—labor-management collaboration. In order to work, the parts of PAR must be compatible, complementary, and coherent. This means that those who create PAR must take off their partisan hats and work on behalf of better schools, wherever that may take them.

Because collaboration is so important in planning for PAR, districts seldom leave the work to regular bargaining teams. Instead, the union president and superintendent usually appoint a special team of teachers and administrators to develop their district’s approach to PAR. Thus, side by side, there may be an open and candid process for planning PAR and an adversarial process for bargaining the rest of the contract. Alternatively, districts that use interest-based bargaining to negotiate their contract may have a PAR work group that feeds into their negotiations. Although PAR depends upon labor-management collaboration, that doesn’t mean that the sides have to agree about everything. They just have to agree to work together on PAR.

The teachers contract authorizes PAR, either by including the details of the program, pointing to other policies that do, or conferring responsibility for its development on a committee. In all cases, though, a group of teachers and administrators must come together to design the program. Beyond its basic components—peer assistance coupled with evaluation, consulting teachers (CTs), and a PAR Panel—there is no off-the-shelf template for PAR. It always requires local interpretation, adaptation, and adjustment.

Adopting PAR also takes time—often a number of years. Those who plan PAR have to envision what it can accomplish, recognize what must be done to adapt the program to their district’s current policies and practices, and figure out how the program will work day to day. This is not only a technical challenge, but also an educational and political one. Teachers, administrators, and school board members who see unionism in traditional terms must change their view. Teachers and principals will have to redefine their roles. Everyone must learn to work in new ways. For many in the district, these changes only really begin once the program starts, and, even then, they take time. However, launching a solid program will require a core of teachers and administrators who understand what PAR means, anticipate the challenges it will probably generate, and are prepared to explain why it’s worth doing and how it can work to improve teaching and learning throughout the district.

Should principals help plan PAR?

“If you go to principals on this matter in a collegial way—and not “All right, your time is up. Now it’s our turn”—then I think they’re more likely to be proponents of [PAR].”

Rochester Union President

The simple answer to this question is “yes.” PAR is widely viewed as a labor-management initiative involving the teachers union and district-level administrators. However, PAR also has important implications for principals, who often are held accountable—sometimes with financial rewards and sanctions—for the success of their school. Districts that overlook or exclude principals or their union from the PAR planning process often encounter a subsequent roadblock—a lawsuit in Rochester, a grievance from the principals union in Syracuse. In order for PAR to work, it must function effectively not only at the district level where the PAR Panel meets, but also in the schools where CTs and principals share or exchange responsibility for supervising and evaluating teachers. Therefore, principals should be engaged in exploring the possibility of PAR. Meanwhile, their union—if they are represented by one—should be well-informed about the process and possibly participate as a third party in planning PAR. Having a PAR plan that has been reviewed and endorsed by teachers and principals will increase the chances of smooth implementation.

How can union leaders convince the doubters?

Many union presidents find that PAR is hard to sell at first. Teachers become alarmed to learn that their colleagues may evaluate them or that their union intends to encourage dismissals. In persuading union members to ratify a contract that includes PAR, presidents usually have to convince some of their members that they are not being sold out by their own union. Often, in order to accept PAR, teachers must change their beliefs about what a union can or should do. They must relinquish the idea that the union will protect all teachers, no matter how ineffective they are. And they must come to believe that PAR can professionalize their work and improve their schools.

“You can only move in these progressive ways when you’ve taken care of old-fashioned bread-and-butter issues.”

San Juan Teachers Union Executive Director

In convincing teachers to accept PAR, union presidents often remind them that incompetent colleagues make their work harder and shortchange students. They may argue that teachers will have more public support if they uphold high professional standards. And they may contend that no one is in a better position to evaluate teachers than a teacher. The success of other districts in implementing PAR and the favorable testimony by those who know it well bolster the case for adopting PAR. However, this process takes time and must be started well in advance of a vote to ratify the contract.

“This was very controversial at the time, especially when the state organizations weren’t supporting it and they were saying ‘teachers shouldn’t evaluate teachers.’ So we had to go to our membership here and show them that we weren’t here to try to punish people. We’re here to try to help and really create a pathway for success or a pathway for exiting this profession.”

San Juan Teachers Union Executive Director

Convincing the teachers is somewhat easier when the district plans to adopt PAR in stages, starting with a Novice Program and moving to introduce an Intervention Program only if the Novice Program proves successful. Usually, the Novice Program is easier for members to accept, since non-tenured teachers have few rights under state law. Also, the teachers who will be affected have not yet been hired when the vote on PAR is taken. Teachers recognize the benefits of having a strong induction program. Successful experience with a Novice Program appears to be the most convincing argument for expanding PAR to include either a Voluntary or Intervention Program.