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
Related documents

How will experienced teachers be placed on PAR Intervention?

“Sometimes in the teaching profession, where you get tenured, you can get a little bit lazy. . . . And if you’re not meeting standards, this is a great way to put you back in touch with people who are going to help you so you can meet standards.”

San Juan Principal

This is one of the most important decisions a district makes in designing its PAR program. A teacher can be referred for Intervention by a principal, colleague, or school-based team, depending on the district’s plan. Only the principal has the authority to refer a teacher in San Juan. However, in Minneapolis, a teacher can be referred for PAR services by principals, colleagues, or school-based Professional Development Program teams. In Rochester, the union building representative can make the referral. Whatever the available options, it is rare for anyone except the principal to refer a teacher to Intervention, although often the principal is moved to act by complaints from the teacher’s colleagues. Thus, although not a peer, the principal continues to play a key role in the success of peer review.

In most districts, a teacher cannot be placed on Intervention unless he or she has received one or more unsatisfactory evaluations. The district’s standard evaluation process is set forth in the teachers contract or school board policy. These evaluations, conducted by principals or assistant principals, are based on standards for good teaching, which are used across the district. These evaluations usually play an important role in the referral process. Rochester only allows a teacher to be referred if her overall evaluation is unsatisfactory. A San Juan teacher who has two unsatisfactory ratings on five possible standards is automatically placed on PAR, while a Montgomery County principal can initiate a referral when a teacher falls below standard in just one area.

In response to a referral, most districts’ Panels conduct a formal review by assigning a CT to investigate and report back about the case. Typically, the CT arrives unannounced to observe the teacher’s classes. In Montgomery County, CTs focus on the teacher’s instruction, but may speak with other staff with the teacher’s permission. In Toledo, the CT consults with both the principal and union building representative during the investigation. And in Minneapolis, CTs who investigate a referral can spend up to 30 days meeting with the teacher, conducting announced and unannounced classroom observations and discussing the case with the principal and others on the teacher’s school-based professional development team. Ultimately, the CT recommends to the PAR Panel whether the teacher should enter the Intervention program. Based on the principal’s evaluation and the CT’s report and recommendation, the Panel decides whether or not to place the teacher on Intervention. In Toledo, the CT can also recommend that the teacher participate in a voluntary support program. San Juan is unusual in that the Panel can respond to a referral by deciding without further evidence whether to place a teacher on Intervention.

“There’s a number of dates and things you’ve got to pay attention to. So I think some principals get a little discouraged and are not as aggressive as they should be about getting teachers there.”

San Juan District Administrator

Although Intervention provides a clear route to improvement or dismissal for poor teachers, it is not a short-cut. In completing evaluations, principals must comply with the procedures and timelines set forth in both board policy and the teachers contract. Most Panels will reject a referral if the principal missed even a single deadline in the process, although Montgomery County allows somewhat more leeway. Usually principals also must demonstrate to the Panel that they have offered the referred teacher support and provided the chance to improve. For example, San Juan requires principals to raise their concerns early with the teacher, state their expectations explicitly, conduct frequent informal observations, and offer support. Before referring a Rochester teacher to Intervention, a principal must have offered “resource help,” a timeline for improvement, and other counseling or assistance from district personnel.

“Frankly, I think that there is a difference between representing people and defending the indefensible. I think in this day and age, in this age of accountability, true accountability, we have to draw a line.”

Syracuse Teachers Union President

Few teachers file grievances about the investigation process because it is conducted by a member of the teacher’s bargaining unit and the Panel includes representatives of both labor and management, who ensure that the teacher’s due process rights are protected. In San Juan, however, where there is no independent investigation by a CT, unsatisfactory evaluations trigger a referral. Therefore, a referred teacher can file a grievance if the principal fails to comply with required procedures. Also, a San Juan union representative, who is responsible solely for monitoring due process, attends all Panel meetings. A representative from the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services attends Panel meetings in Minneapolis to oversee the process. Most people who learn about PAR expect that the Panel’s deliberations will be adversarial and result in close votes between labor and management. They are surprised to learn that when votes by the Panel are not unanimous, they virtually never split along labor-management lines.

PAR provides a clear process through which struggling teachers may improve or be dismissed. Many principals actively use PAR to assist struggling teachers and review their performance, but other principals resist using it altogether. This may be because they think PAR generates conflict. Or they may believe that the process is too demanding or takes too much time. Some principals use PAR only as a last resort, believing that they—rather than CTs—should provide their teachers with the assistance they need. However, principals who have successfully made referrals under PAR usually contend that its procedures are fair, realistic and consistent with their role as an instructional leader.

“I think all of us would admit that the percentage of our teachers who are struggling is definitely higher than what is getting referred to PAR.”

San Juan Principal

Administrators, union officials, and CTs often report that there are more teachers failing in their schools than currently are being referred to PAR. Some central office administrators work with their principals to increase the number of teachers referred to PAR Intervention. In Montgomery County, both a district administrator and the president of the principals union provide site administrators with targeted training about PAR in an effort to generate more referrals and to ensure that they are of high quality.