How are they accountable now, in what ways, and to whom? And what will the bills soon to be under consideration by the California legislature do to improve on the current state of affairs?
Here are some ideas being tried right now in other states, which involve students, parents, and teachers in the teacher review process. Perhaps we could learn a few lessons from these experiments on the edge of the possible.
STUDENTS IN THE TEACHER REVIEW PROCESS
In Hawaii, students evaluate teachers in a well-seasoned process that's years old.
In Alaska, students from grades 3 through 11 do the same, in a new program that's just now underway.
Here in California, the California Association of Student Councils has been lobbying for two years for a law that would require principals to include student comments in every teacher's review.
And why shouldn't students have a say? They're the ones most directly hurt by bad teaching. In a profoundly important study, Prof. William Sanders of the University of Tennessee shows just how much teaching matters both good and bad varieties.
The fairness and truthfulness of student comments is well supported by research and tradition. College students at most universities offer comments on their faculty. Here's one example of student reviews of teachers you can review from City College of San Francisco.
PARENTS IN THE TEACHER REVIEW PROCESS
Surprisingly, this is the way it works in Anchorage, Alaska, where educators mailed 50,000 surveys to parents asking fifteen questions about their kids' teachers. How did they communicate? Did they grade fairly? Did they treat their children with respect?
Board member Kathi Gillespie explained their reasons. It goes beyond the Alaska state law requiring that districts provide some way for parents to comment on the quality of education services. "That's where this is coming from. We're opening the door and saying, 'Sit down, let's talk.'"
This "open door" approach is catching on. Nationwide, about one of every 100 districts has some method of asking parents to assess the job performances of teachers and administrators.
It's certainly true in Rochester, New York, where parents took part in the teacher-evaluation process for the first time in Spring 1998. Parents sent their signed survey forms directly to teachers and principals. District officials estimate that roughly one in three families participated. And Florida districts are now trying a more moderate variation of this, thanks to a state law passed in 1997.
TEACHERS IN THE TEACHER REVIEW PROCESS
What's now called peer review has been a hot potato between unions and school districts for some time. Only in the last year have the nation's teacher unions come to find this acceptable. Even now, support for the practice can be found at the top of the two unions, but only among some of its members.
The leading locals have been in Columbus, Toledo and Cincinatti, Ohio, plus Rochester, New York. Toledo's teachers pioneered peer review against the wishes of the AFT leadership way back in 1981!
Bob Chase, the leader of the NEA, gave a speech back in February 1997 in which he outlined his reasons for embracing this practice. It's worth reading. He later wrote an essay in Education Week in October 1997, arguing that peer review is a way for teachers to "take charge" again of their profession.
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