Wednesday, February 15, 2012

ADVISORY BOARD Teachers' Peer Review Would Strengthen the Profession

Posted in the NEW YORK TIMES at Feb. 15, 2012, 4:22 p.m.

Education is leadership development, plain and simple.

In the best schools, we’re preparing students to exercise leadership over their lives, in their families and communities, and for our society. The goal must be to provide each youngster with the leadership skills required to become full participants in the political and economic life of the nation.

However, you can’t empower kids until you’ve empowered their teachers to exercise leadership in classrooms, and extend their leadership to matters of curriculum, instruction and assessment.

As Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and the teachers’ union continue to tussle over which system of teacher evaluations to adopt, this seems a good time to explore the notion of having teachers weigh in on how they evaluate one another.

We expect those in other professions, like law and medicine, to assess one anothers’ work with the time-honored idea of peer reviews; why not encourage this with teachers, too?

A quarter of a century ago, my faculty and I developed a system of peer review that included renewable tenure at the first International High School at La Guardia Community College.

It was sanctioned by both the Board of Education and the United Federation of Teachers, but we were cautioned not to share what we were doing with other schools. Presumably, both the central office and the union did not trust teachers to evaluate their colleagues.

Every teacher prepared a portfolio of their accomplishments on an annual basis and presented the contents, including student performance results, before a panel of their peers. The panels would decide important matters, like the granting of tenure and continued service after tenure, and on several occasions separated both tenured and untenured teachers from our school. More importantly, this process led to significant professional growth for all who participated.

Engaging in peer review professionalized our staff and improved their skills. It also served to ensure that the teachers in the school shared accountability for the highest levels of student achievement.

The student performance results were astonishing, with 90 percent of our students graduating and going to college. And our kids were all recently-arrived English language learners!

In my present position as professor of educational leadership atTeachers College Columbia University, faculty take for granted that they will be subject to peer reviews, and most see it as a facet of their professional growth and development. But too many of our schools persist in infantilizing the very professionals we charge with empowering our children.

As policy-makers in New York City, Albany and Washington wrestle with how best to evaluate teachers, they must not ignore the vital role teachers themselves can play in upholding the standards of our profession.

Eric Nadelstern is a professor at Teachers College. Prior to that, he was a deputy chancellor in the Department of Education.

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