I am re-reading Richard Kahlenberg’s 2007 book about Albert Shanker, Tough Liberal: Albert Shanker and the Battle Over Schools, Unions, Race, and Democracy. It’s a fascinating read about one of the most influential educators and union leaders of our time.
Shanker recognized that teachers needed to move beyond action on collective bargaining because it made teachers look as though “we are acting only in our own self-interest, wanting better salaries and smaller class sizes so our lives can be made easier. That image is standing in the way of our achieving professional status, for not only must we act on behalf of our clients, we must be perceived as acting that way.”
In other words, “take a step beyond collective bargaining to improve education.”
Shanker defined a professional teacher as: “someone who receives a liberal arts education, then specialized training, and then must pass a rigorous exam before beginning to practice. She participates in an internship, is guided by mentors, and participates in reviewing the performance of colleagues. [A] reciprocal set of rights—greater autonomy and higher compensation—comes once these professional responsibilities are met.”
Based on this notion of a “new professionalism,” Shanker pushed for Peer Assistance and Review or PAR. It was started in Toledo over 25 years ago. In PAR, the local teacher’s union and administrators jointly manage a program to improve teacher quality by having expert teachers mentor and evaluate (my emphasis added) their peers.
PAR has been shown to help beginning teachers succeed and increase retention; it helps ineffective teachers improve or to dismiss them without undue delay and cost. PAR can build a stronger teaching force and help to promote a culture focusing on sound teaching practices.
I am currently working with our association and talking to our district administrators to look at implementing PAR. The hang-up, and the reason I added emphasis to evaluate, is that current law does not allow a teacher to evaluate a colleague — this can only be done by an administrator.
This is an example of dated legislation that needs to be re-evaluated if we are to make some headway towards education reform. Hopefully, we have some legislators willing to take this on.
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