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

How is PAR negotiated and what is included in the contract?

Conventional bargaining is not effective for designing a complex program such as PAR. Therefore, most districts carefully work out the details of their program and present it to be ratified as a package at negotiations. Because so much thought and effort from both labor and management has gone into the plan, by the time it reaches the bargaining table, it usually is accepted with few changes.

Districts often implement PAR in stages, starting first with a Novice Program and subsequently adding an Intervention Program. This staged approach has the advantage of starting with a component that is less likely to alarm traditional unionists, since it does not threaten tenured teachers. Once teachers recognize the success of the program in supporting teachers, they may be more willing to endorse the Intervention component. Also, the Intervention Program is more challenging to implement because the teachers are less eager to participate than novices and the stakes for tenured teachers are clearly higher. Therefore, it makes sense for the Panel to establish its patterns of collaborative work before initiating the more challenging and controversial component.

“Having it in the contract was a stroke of genius because it really institutionalized it. It set all the operating conditions, and it’s darn hard to change it once it’s in the contract.”

San Juan Panel Member

Some leaders in districts we studied believe that having PAR included in the contract is the best way to ensure its survival and to guarantee adherence to both the spirit and the detail of the agreement. Those in other districts have chosen to treat PAR less formally, by including it in a trust agreement or a memo of understanding (MOU), as Syracuse does. An MOU is time-limited and must be renegotiated after a certain period of time. However, it has the advantage of allowing for changes outside of formal bargaining if the parties agree. These alternative approaches are not bound by the contract bargaining schedule and are more flexible, while still affording PAR a legal standing.

When PAR is included in the contract, the provisions typically define terms, set timelines, and establish the specific responsibilities of the PAR Panel and teachers who are involved in the program. Whether this section is long and detailed or short and simple seems to depend on local tradition and the level of trust between the parties. Some districts we studied included only short descriptions (one to three pages) of PAR in their contract, which then referenced relevant handbooks or board policies. By contrast, Minneapolis specifies many details about PAR and the professional development systems on which it rests, such as what materials CTs will use in their work, the instructional standards to be used in evaluations, and the procedures by which the Panel is to recommend further employment. In the words of one of Minneapolis’s PAR program founders, having PAR detailed in the contract was a “brilliant move” that permits the program to run smoothly and by the book, allowing it to be “protected” from budget cuts or leaders who might not support it.

“We certainly had to carefully negotiate the structure of things and how it fit into the other structures that were already in existence. But I think it was a good, mutual collaboration around creating this.”

Minneapolis District Administrator

Codifying all the procedures of PAR ensures that they cannot be easily violated or ignored. However, a detailed contract may limit the Panel’s flexibility in responding to problems and needs as they arise. Most programs strike a balance between providing details that ensure the program will run as it’s intended while allowing for flexibility through the process of implementation. For example, Rochester’s contract spells out the duties of the PAR Panel and then assigns the Panel responsibility to establish guidelines for PAR and make joint labor-management decisions. Those who design the program must weigh the benefits of maintaining flexibility with a simple agreement that sets forth only the basics against the benefits of ensuring stability with a detailed agreement.

The districts have carefully chosen their approach to including PAR in their contract. However, we found no evidence that the level of detail in the contract had any effect on how and the extent to which PAR was implemented. Ultimately, that depended on the trust, resources, and day-to-day working relationships among the parties.