U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan Wednesday praised a teacher peer-review system pioneered in Toledo, calling the program an innovative system for evaluating teachers.
Mr. Duncan appeared at the Toledo Federation of Teachers' headquarters on South Byrne Road as part of a Midwest bus tour highlighting education reforms and labor-management collaborations. He expressed support for a program called the Toledo Plan, the first teacher peer-review system in the nation, over the traditional teacher evaluation system.
"I have tremendous respect for the work done in Toledo," he said. "In far too many places around the country, teacher evaluation is broken."
The Toledo Plan was developed in 1981 by then local union president Dal Lawrence. The core of the program is its intern system, into which all new Toledo Public School teachers could be entered.
Intern teachers are given an experienced teacher who acts as a mentor or consultant, who both supports the intern through goal-setting and classroom visits, and evaluates the new teacher. The mentor then forwards a final evaluation and recommendation for either renewal or nonrenewal of the intern to an Intern Board of Review, which includes teachers and administrators.
Six intern board members are needed to reverse the mentor's recommendation.
More than three decades old, the Toledo Plan has resulted in about 350 intern resignations or nonrenewals, according to Francine Lawrence, and the removal in some form of about 100 veteran teachers. And yet, she said, the program is the most popular initiative among Toledo teachers. Ms. Lawrence took over as the local union president for her husband, Dal, and recently resigned the post.
"This is a significant transformation of the culture of people who work in the schools," she said.
Mr. Duncan said Wednesday he's followed the Toledo Plan for years, after meeting with the Lawrences when he was superintendent of the Chicago public school system and the district was revamping its teacher-evaluation system.
The Toledo Plan, however, is not universally admired.
It has faced criticism from groups who claimed the program had a history of eliminating minority teachers, and from those who argued it ignores veteran teachers who struggle.
The Toledo Board of Education has final say for all personnel decisions but rarely overturns the Intern Board of Review. In 2004, the program was the center of a controversy when an African-American teacher was recommended for nonrenewal, despite support from teachers at his school. The Board of Education overturned the nonrenewal after a recommendation by then-superintendent Eugene Sanders.
The controversy led to a review of the program led by Linda Kaboolian, a professor at Harvard University. Her report was largely positive toward peer review and the Toledo Plan, though she made several recommendations for improvements. Most of those recommendations have not been implemented. Meanwhile, the Toledo district has continued to struggle under poor student performance in its central-city schools.
Mr. Duncan, who has previously advocated defining teacher effectiveness through a combination of peer review, principal observations, and data that measures student growth, said Toledo officials should "have an open mind" about implementing reforms to the Toledo Plan, just like other districts should have an open mind about peer review.
"Do you want to rest on your laurels," he asked, in reference to Toledo, "or do you want to continue being a leader?"
Mr. Duncan also used stops in Toledo and Pittsburgh to promote labor-management collaborations, and he criticized Ohio's new law restricting public-employee collective bargaining.
"Anytime you take away those rights, that's something I can't support," he said.
Mr. Duncan also sat on a mock intern board of review proceeding. The board consists of five union appointed members, and four district appointed members. The makeup is part of the collaboration Mr. Duncan complimented, and teachers outweigh administrators so they "have ownership" of the program, according to Ms. Lawrence, though the ratio has also been a source of contention for critics.
The guest-of-honor listened as two former consulting teachers gave presentations on interns -- one with a favorable recommendation, the other not. After the demonstration, Mr. Duncan again recounted his meetings with the Lawrences in Chicago, and said how his former district conducted teacher evaluations was "the dark ages" compared to Toledo's peer review system.
"I'm always looking for models that the country should be thinking about," he said. "I think Toledo has been on the cutting edge now for a couple decades."
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