School reform that works, the Toledo Plan developed by the Toledo Federation of Teachers and the Toledo Board of Education in 1981, has deservedly won national acclaim.
The pioneering program was named one of five winners of the Innovations in American Government Award, sponsored by the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. In the interim, its word-of-mouth success had prompted other districts in Ohio as well as one in Rochester, N.Y., to copy it.
Under the program senior teachers are freed from classroom duties to work with new teachers, to try to ensure their success, if possible, and, if not, to ensure that they don't become an extra obstacle to children's learning and a blight on the school system.
Evaluations are ultimately assessed by both the teachers' union and school officials. They determine whether a teacher will continue in employment. More than 300 teachers have been released under the plan, without union-management confrontation. In the five years before the plan was in effect, not a single person had been fired for poor teaching performance.
Veteran teachers identified as slumping are also referred to this program. Its success with them has been more limited, according to one school board member. It may be that the union and the board need fresh creative action for dealing with them appropriately.
But that's not to gainsay the rest of the operation, which has proven tremendously successful, not only here but in other cities that have tried it.
The $100,000 accompanying the award, to encourage the district to spread its program to school systems across the nation, will go a long way toward achieving that end and showcase this city and this school district as a place where innovation does happen.
School districts have long been plagued with teachers of promise dropping out and teachers whose promise has gone unfulfilled for too long. The presence of the latter drags down educational achievement for the next generation and feeds cynicism in the taxpaying public, who can't help but feel that school officials are incompetent and that teachers' unions are only out for themselves.
Kudos to those involved in this program and to those who submitted it in the Kennedy competition. Their program, and its success, enriches Toledo.