Over the past 40 years, the field of behavioral economics has emerged to explain why humans make irrational decisions. We talk with one of the pioneers of the field to find out what’s behind the choices we make, and how we can use this knowledge for good.
Sometimes the toughest grades teachers have to give are for each other. Montgomery County is among the jurisdictions where teachers participate in “peer assistance and review” – a system that allows senior teachers to evaluate newcomers and under-performing veterans. We explore how it works and where it fits in evaluating teacher performance in the classroom.
- Kate Walsh President, National Council on Teacher Quality
- Doug Prouty President, Montgomery County Education Association
- Nathan Saunders President, Washington Teachers' Union
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5, at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. We hear a lot these days about regulating banks and businesses and what happens and doesn't happen when they're left to their own devices. But what about the ability of our teachers to hold each other accountable and to honestly grade each other?
MR. KOJO NNAMDIMontgomery County, Md., has a system in place where senior teachers are responsible for evaluating rookies and underperforming veterans. They say that peer review and assistance is the smarter route for identifying mentoring and terminating instructors who don't make the grade. But peer review works against a nationwide push for using test scores and data to measure teacher quality, a lynchpin of the Obama administration's so-called Race to the Top program.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us to explore how peer review works in practice and how it stacks up against other jurisdictions that are moving in different directions is Doug Prouty. He is the president of the Montgomery County Education Association, the union that represents teachers in Montgomery County, Md. Doug Prouty, thank you for joining us.
MR. DOUG PROUTYThanks for having me.
NNAMDIJoining us by telephone is Kate Walsh, the president of the National Center on Teacher Quality. Kate Walsh, thank you for joining us.
MS. KATE WALSHHappy to be here.
NNAMDIWe're also expecting Nathan Saunders, the president of the Washington Teachers' Union. He should be along shortly. In the meantime, if you have questions or comments, you can call us at 800-433-8850. What faith do you have in the ability of teachers to give honest grades to each other and hold themselves accountable on their own? 800-433-8850 or just go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there.
NNAMDIDoug Prouty, some of the most important grades that your union members give out are the ones they give to each other. For more than a decade, Montgomery County has had a kind of peer review and assistance program in place to measure teacher effectiveness. How does it work?
PROUTYWell, it -- there are a group of teachers we refer to as consulting teachers. They're folks who've been in the system for at least five years. And there's a hiring process that is quite rigorous. Once they're hired, the consulting teachers work in that capacity for three years. And these are people who've, you know, been in the classroom for any number of times, demonstrated their expertise.
PROUTYSo, for those three years, what they do is help all novice teachers in our system, as well as underperforming both probationary and tenured teachers. They have about 16 clients each. And every day, they visit classrooms. They talk on the phone. They send emails to provide support, but also gather data on the performance of the teachers who are in, what we call, the PAR program.
NNAMDIYou told The New York Times earlier this month that this peer review system would not work without a certain level of trust. Where do you think Montgomery County was able to build that trust? And do you think that trust achieving it is possible in other jurisdictions?
PROUTYOh, I think it's certainly possible. We were able to build it because we put in a system into place that, I think, is more fair and transparent than the previous system we had. And it's more fair and transparent than most evaluation systems that most public school systems have. It's a way that teachers have two sets of data collected on their performance, not just by the consulting teacher but also by the administration of their school.
PROUTYSo, at the end of the year, if they're underperforming, the PAR panel, which is a group that oversees the program actually has data from two independent sources. So this gives teachers a fair chance of making sure that everything that's happened in their classroom is captured. And the folks who are looking at what's happened in their classroom have someone to bounce ideas off of, not only in terms of the administration of the school but also in terms of their cohorts as all their consulting teachers and the folks in the PAR panel as well.
NNAMDIWho is this program essentially for, rookie teachers, veterans who aren't up to snuff?
PROUTYThat's right. That's exactly it.
NNAMDISo that's virtually anybody.
PROUTYIt could be anybody in the system. Yep, yep. We've had people in the program who had -- you know, there's no experience at all. Everyone coming in brand new automatically is assigned to the program. And we've had teachers in the system in the program with 35 years experience. It's whether or not they are up to the standard that Montgomery County sets for its teachers.
NNAMDIKate, Montgomery County is not the only jurisdiction that has jumped in on the peer review experiment. A lot of people have looked closely at the system in Toledo, Ohio, which kind of got the ball rolling on this in the early 1980s. What sense do you have for the overall effectiveness of peer review programs that have been put in place over the years?
WALSHWell, I think peer review is a fundamentally great idea. The question you have to ask is, is it helping teachers improve their craft? And in a very narrow sense, perhaps that is happening both in Montgomery and Toledo. But they are dealing with a very tiny percentage of teachers in the workforce.
WALSHAnd neither Toledo or Montgomery County do -- the statistics generated from that system suggests that anymore teachers are being counseled out of the profession than traditional ways of handling teachers who are having (unintelligible).
NNAMDIWell, allow me to interrupt because, according to former Montgomery County superintendent Jerry Weast, in the 10 years before peer assistance and review, there were, oh, five teachers who were fired. And it took three to five years to build the trust to get the process in place. And since that time, in the 11 years since the system began, the panels have voted to fire 200 teachers. And 300 more have left rather than go through that process. What do you say to that?
WALSHWell, I think that what we're talking about is a workforce of less than two-tenths of a percent that is dismissed on the basis of the PAR program. I don't know about statistics on Montgomery County previous to it going in. But I do know, for example, in Toledo, only 85 teachers over 25 years have been dismissed as a result of their PAR program. So we're still talking about extremely low rates.
WALSHDoes that mean that a program is only effective if a lot of teachers are fired or counseled out of the profession? No. But it's a pretty good indication that the program is rigorous. Keep in mind that only teachers who make it into these programs are really struggling. So the idea that you have less than two-tenths of the percent of teachers who go in this program are then dismissed does not suggest that it's an extremely rigorous process.
NNAMDIWhat do you say to that, Doug Prouty?
PROUTYWell, I'd say that the piece you're missing here is the fact that every novice teacher is included in the program automatically. And so depending on the numbers of folks we hire every year, between 500 and 700 brand-new teachers receive the support of the program. So that's the piece that's really missing, is the support. We have teachers over the last 12 years who've been in the system, who've gotten the support of a C.T., consulting teacher, during their first year.
PROUTYAnd those folks are getting better faster and are delivering better results for kids as a result of that. And because the changing demographics of the teaching force, we estimate now that probably about half the teachers in Montgomery County have received support of a C.T. So that's folks who are doing better in the classroom every day with kids because of this program. And we've seen the student achievement results improve because of it.
NNAMDIHow are underperforming teachers in Montgomery County identified?
PROUTYThey're identified by means of evaluation that has six standards. There's four for instruction and two for professional conduct and development and the principal is the evaluation periodically. And so, for the first two years, you're automatically evaluated every year, and then it's basically every three or four years after that. So if you get a below-standard evaluation during that evaluation or a special evaluation year, you're then referred to the PAR program.
PROUTYYou're not put in automatically 'cause we have a check in place there. So one of these consulting teachers will then go out and watch you teach twice at the end of the year and determine whether or not they think there's areas of concern that warrant you being place in the program. If they say, yes, then you're included automatically for the following year.
NNAMDIDoug Prouty is president of the Montgomery County Education Association, the union that represents teachers in Montgomery County, Md. We're talking about the system that exists in Montgomery County involving peer review of teachers. It's called peer assistance and review. And joining us by telephone is Kate Walsh, president of the National Center on Teacher Quality.
NNAMDII'm glad you brought up principals, Kate Walsh, because it's my understanding that you feel really strongly about the involvement of principals in any peer review process. Are there peer review systems in place that have cut principals out of the process?
WALSHWell, the Toledo program is a model that is structured independent of the principal, which I think is a mistake. I think that, as Montgomery County does, the principal's role is still a factor. The principal is the, you know -- the principal is the-buck-can't-stop-here guy. I mean, the-buck-stops-here guy.
WALSHHe can't control who's in his building and what is happening to teachers who are struggling in his or her building, then the system, I believe, is fundamentally flawed. You've got to make sure that the principal has final say over who teaches in the building.
NNAMDIHow important is the involvement of principals in Montgomery County, Doug Prouty?
PROUTYIt's a key in terms of making sure that the program is fair and balanced. Without the input from the principals, we wouldn't have someone in the building who has the opportunity to see that teachers teach every day, if that's what the principal chooses to do. And it's one of the two independent data sources I mentioned earlier. So we think it's important that the principal is involved.
PROUTYThe principal is the person who's going to guide the support in the building as well. And, because of that, the principal needs to know what's happening with brand-new teachers and teachers about whom he or she has concerns. That -- it's our opinion that the principal should put those folks -- folks who are underperforming -- at the top of their list.
NNAMDIKate Walsh, a few years ago, NPR did a piece on that Toledo system, which reported that, even though that peer review system had been the subject of three federal lawsuits over the years, it was now extremely popular with union members. Why do you find it became more popular?
WALSHWell, I can't explain why it's popular. All I can do is look at what its impact is on classrooms and classroom effectiveness. So, regardless of the popularity of a program, I think that the question anyone has to ask here is, is our teacher force being more effective as a result of this program? And, you know, that's -- Montgomery County says it has data that says it's becoming more effective.
WALSHAnd I have no doubt that the existence of having -- that having cooperating teachers come into the classroom twice a year is of inordinate value to teachers. Teachers need feedback, not just ones that are struggling but really great ones. And that's what they are deprived of on a regular basis in almost every school district in the country. So I have no doubt about the impact of having those observations in the classroom.
WALSHBut you still have to look at whether or not these programs are successful in counseling out teachers who shouldn't be there. And that's -- you know, you compare what's happening in Montgomery County with what's happening in Washington, D.C., but their impact system -- 4 percent of Washington, D.C. teachers were dismissed last year as a result of their new system, which uses student test scores.
WALSHThere's nothing comparable to that. And I'm not suggesting it should be comparable to Montgomery County. It's a stronger system. But Montgomery County does not have the evidence to show that its system for dealing with struggling teachers is significantly more effective than anything else that's around.
NNAMDIIt seems to me -- and I could be wrong because Nathan Saunders is now in the room from the Washington Teachers' Union -- but before I get to Nathan Saunders, it seems to me that you're saying that the most effective way of measuring whether or not these systems are working are not, A, whether the students are doing well, but, B, how many teachers are being let go. Is that the argument that you're making?
WALSHNo, that's a simplification. I am saying that teachers -- these are programs designed for teachers who are really struggling. These are teachers who are in trouble. And if they're -- if less than two-tenths of a single percent of teachers, who are going through this program, are, in fact, leaving the system, that suggest it's not a very rigorous process.
NNAMDIWell, it could also suggest to some people -- and Nathan Saunders, I'm going to get to you in a second, but I want Doug Prouty first. It could also suggest to some people that the system is helping to improve teachers who were not doing that well, rather than simply weeding them out. Doug Prouty?
PROUTYYeah, I mean, that's exactly the point I would make. Is the focus of the program to support teachers and help them improve? Or is the focus of the program just to fire teachers? We think the focus of the program is and should be to support teachers, to make sure that they can improve. They have a good opportunity to do so, and they have the resources they need to get that done.
NNAMDIWhat do you say to that, Kate Walsh?
WALSHWell, I think it's a little -- you know, that sounds great. But a program that's designed to help struggling teachers is going to have a higher percentage than less than two-tenths of the percent of failure rate. Otherwise, it does not seem -- I mean, you're talking about success rate for that program of 99.8 percent, which -- I don't know about you, but that does not suggest much rigor to me.
NNAMDINathan Saunders joins us in studio. He is the president of the Washington Teachers' Union. Thank you for joining us. One of the biggest legacies of the Michelle Rhee era of D.C. public schools is the system she left in place for measuring teacher performance. You've had a lot of not-so-complimentary things to say about the so-called IMPACT system. But before we get to those gripes, can you tell us how it works?
MR. NATHAN SAUNDERSWell, the IMPACT system bases performance on, to a large degree, student test scores. As many -- as much as 50 percent of a teacher effectiveness is based upon student test scores. This is quite similar to the comments we've just been exposed to about effectiveness by the numbers. And, really, I want to take exception to the concept that a teacher evaluation system is not good unless teachers get fired.
MR. NATHAN SAUNDERSWe have to say that a teacher evaluation system is good when students learn. And that's got to be the goal. Unfortunately, for those who are outside of the classroom and look at a lot of the public discourse around education only think education is progressing if student scores are going up. But, I'll tell you, on a collegiate level, the first thing professors talk about is great inflation and the fact that the students are coming here with higher grades and no better skills.
MR. NATHAN SAUNDERSAnd so we have to focus back on educating teachers and also preparing students for progress.
NNAMDIBefore we go to a break, it's my understanding, however, that there is a peer review element to the IMPACT system, that part of an evaluation is completed by master educators who observe teachers in the classroom. How does this part work in Washington?
SAUNDERSWell, first of all, we also need to say that there is no real comparison between peer review and what the master educators do in the District of Columbia public schools. The IMPACT system includes master educators who report directly to management and who's -- as a result, what you will find in the District of Columbia is that there is absolutely no trust. And as my colleague from Montgomery County said, trust is very important.
SAUNDERSSo the master educator arrives for evaluation purposes only. In Montgomery County, the peer review system is based upon the approval of the teacher. Many teachers in the District of Columbia ask, what can I do to get better? The new system, IMPACT, is based upon, it is the teachers' responsibility to get better themselves, not necessarily the system's.
NNAMDIYou seem to be saying that, because of this, the master teachers tend to be more accountable to management. Some would say, well, they are stooges for management, that they're more accountable to management than they are to the teachers themselves, even though they themselves are, well, teachers.
SAUNDERSWell, I will be very clear with this statement. The master educators work downtown for the chancellor 100 percent. They are told by the chancellor and her subordinates what schools to go to, how long to stay, who to evaluate. They are 100 percent accountable to management and not to the teachers, not their job to go out there and tell the teacher how to teach. It's their job to go out there and evaluate what they see the teacher doing.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation on peer review and teachers. Inviting your calls at 800-433-8850, or you can go to our website. Join the conversation there, kojoshow.org. Or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're talking about peer review and teachers with Kate Walsh, president of the National Center on Teacher Quality. Nathan Saunders is president of the Washington Teachers' Union, and Doug Prouty is president of the Montgomery County Education Association, the union that represents teachers in Montgomery County. We've been asking for your calls at 800-433-8850. Let's go to Mark in Silver Spring, Md. Mark, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NNAMDIYes, Mark. It's your turn.
MARKHi. I teach at Montgomery College. I teach in the ESL program, and we have a system of peer review. We don't have a system where we evaluate the final results of students, either, you know, adults, of course, young adults. And what we do is to have faculty observe the instructors, look at their materials and give a kind of review. We know that -- the fact is the students' results can vary according to the class.
MARKIn some cases, very well-experienced and well-known, good teachers can have students who have trouble. And so I would suppose that, in some cases, they might have good instructors -- the teachers who have problems -- and the peers would be able to assess that. So I would recommend, I mean, you know, just brainstorming, that they combine the test scores with peer review. I don't think it's a one or the other choice.
MARKI think that they should be combined in a productive way. So that's my comment.
NNAMDIWell, Kate Walsh, Nathan Saunders argues that what's happening with the IMPACT system in the District of Columbia is not peer review. Is it possible, in your view, is it not only possible, but is it necessarily desirable to combine peer review with test scores?
WALSHWell, I would argue that it is peer review and that these are teachers in the system who have had five years, at least, of highly effective teaching, who are not just evaluating, but they're also counseling these teachers. They meet with them, provide them with important feedback. So, you know, I think the system -- the big difference is not so much the structure here, who they're answering to. But the big difference is they factor in student achievement.
WALSHAnd it's not just about tests. They're looking to see if students are making progress in that class. For most teachers in the Washington, D.C. school system, there are not test scores. These are measures that are apart from test scores. So what better question can you ask when you're evaluating a teacher other than are students progressing? That is not just the best question. It should be practically the only question we really care about is, are students learning?
NNAMDIDoug Prouty, there are people who would argue that students in Montgomery were doing well long before peer review came into existence, that, in fact, what you have is a more affluent county in which a larger number of parents are more highly educated than the same comparable number of parents in Washington, D.C. So Montgomery County is probably not a good place to test this out at all.
PROUTYWell, I would disagree wholeheartedly. Montgomery County is an increasingly diverse community. We will be -- we are now majority-minority. Our student population is, you know -- is quite as diverse as almost any place else you're going to find. And our economic diversity's also --it's about as diverse as any place else you're going to find. Let me make an additional point, which is that our peer assistance and review program does not exclude student achievement data.
PROUTYWe include it. We just don't make that the sole arbiter of whether someone is doing well or not. Our consulting teachers, our principals look at how students are doing in a class. But they look at it in a context of observations to document a teacher's performance, how that teacher is preparing, how that teacher is reflecting on their classes, how that teacher is able to differentiate instruction based on the students' needs.
PROUTYSo whether the student is doing well in class is certainly a part of the system. It's just not a number that we assigned because we don't think that that really honors the complexity of teaching.
NNAMDIKate, I know you have to leave very shortly, but allow me to get a couple of more questions in because Nathan Saunders, Kate, feels really strongly about the roles that principals play in the personal decisions made in their schools. Where do principals fit into the system we have in Washington, D.C.?
SAUNDERSThey have a significant role, and rightfully so. Principals know the school, know the students, and they should have a significant role.
NNAMDIWho do you think should be ultimately responsible for identifying the veteran teachers in your system that aren't doing their jobs as well as they should be?
SAUNDERSWell, I would not relegate it to simply veteran teachers. I would simply say teachers in the system...
SAUNDERS...that aren't doing well. It's the -- their peers. It's the parents. And it's the administration. It's not one single party. It's an amalgamation of ideas and points of views of all entities.
NNAMDIIn Montgomery County?
SAUNDERSIt's principals who complete the evaluations, but they're using feedback from students from parents all the way through. So the -- it's the administrators. It's the department heads in the building. It's the other folks who are working in the building. But it's primarily the principals. And they should know what's happening in each classroom in their building.
NNAMDIThis question for all of you, but, Kate Walsh, you first because you've got to go. The Obama administration is using its Race to the Top program to offer school systems financial incentives to make reforms, including in how they measure teacher effectiveness. It's my understanding that Race to the Top does not exactly reward the peer review concept. How do you feel about that, Kate?
WALSHI think that's a misunderstanding of what it says. It just simply says that teachers should be held accountable for the progress they make in the classroom. And that factors in where the strengths and weaknesses of kids when they come in, so teachers are not handicapped by kids who are behind others. They -- that's allowed for. So the whole point -- I think, peer review is a wonderful instrument.
WALSHI think principals need other voices in the evaluation process. The only difference I have was what the two gentlemen are asserting here, is I think that student learning absolutely must be a integral part of that evaluation.
NNAMDIOkay. Kate Walsh, thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIKate Walsh is the president of the National Center on Teacher Quality. Doug Prouty, what Kate just said?
PROUTYWell, I would say that it is an integral part of our evaluation system, but the difference is we just don't use test scores to assign blame or responsibility. We look at everything that happens in the classroom and the -- that the movement across...
NNAMDIBut it means that you don't get Race to the Top funds.
PROUTYThat does mean we don't get Race to the Top funds because, quite honestly, the system that's been proposed in the state of Maryland, we think, is worse than what we have already. We think we're already doing well in terms of identifying teachers who need support, giving them support, and helping them improve. And if they don't improve, we're doing well in removing them from the classroom.
NNAMDINathan Saunders, what role, if any, do you think that test scores should play? What role, if any, do you think that student performance should play in evaluating teachers?
SAUNDERSStudent performance and test scores should play a role in a system. However, it should not be the determinant of whether or not you have a good teacher or a bad teacher. It is a factor. And it should not be the only factor. Now, you're looking at systems across the United States that are placing more and more emphasis on the test scores. In Washington, D.C., we have a system that says 50 percent.
SAUNDERSIn New York, their system allow for 20 percent is increasing 40 percent. Race to the Top, as you mentioned earlier, is putting more emphasis on the higher the percentage, we think, at the federal government level, the better the system is. Well, professionals who actually do the work in the classrooms know that we provide an education, which, oftentimes, is not measured on certain select tests.
SAUNDERSA lot of things are done in classrooms in the District and elsewhere that cannot be measured in terms of test amounts. And I believe that when you deal with the urban system, where there are challenges, they have to be taken into consideration and that you don't receive the reciprocal effect of -- in certain communities, where there are children or the students are more challenged, good educators choose not to go to those communities because, if I go there and the test scores aren't high, I'm ruined in terms of my career. That is the reciprocal effect that we're seeing.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. We will start with John in -- on the George Washington Parkway if you're still on the parkway, John. Go ahead, please.
JOHNI'm now in D.C.
NNAMDIGood for you.
JOHNWe -- there's a lot of talk I read about in the media and on the radio and television about the quality of the teachers. Isn't the quality of the curriculum a big part in student achievement in the progress that students can make? And couldn't we have peer review of -- on school system's curriculum, either the state education agency, the local education agency in understanding how good the curriculum is?
JOHN'Cause we could have great teachers but subpar curriculum, and we're still not making advances as we want (unintelligible)...
NNAMDII think, John, you will find general agreement on that just about every place, which is one of the reasons why we wanted to have this conservation a little differently. Because the debate that's taking place in the nation right now is, given that the curriculum is appropriate in the average school district, the difference between underperforming students and students who perform well is teacher quality. By the way, Nathan Saunders, is that an argument, too? Would you subscribe?
SAUNDERSWell, not necessarily. There are some elements of truth in it. I find it to be very disappointing that we tend to place all educational outcomes solely on the shoulders of teachers. We have to understand that parents play a role and have a responsibility in the education equation.
NNAMDIThat's something over which we have no control.
SAUNDERSWell, that's nonsense. And, unfortunately, you will find the students who get the very best educations are students whose parents are actively involved in their education.
NNAMDINo. I'm saying that's something over which you and I have no control...
NNAMDI...over the involvement of parents and their children's education.
SAUNDERSWell, I'm not willing to accept that. I think that where we go with this, the most economically efficient and functional method to improve student achievement in this country is to get their parents involved in addition to their teachers.
NNAMDIHow do you propose doing that? Because I'm thinking of, in the past, where there were encouragements to parents who were not really involved, and after encouragements, there was the carrot and stick approach. There were penalties. Everybody said, no, you can't penalize parents because parents have a lot of other priorities. Sometimes they're working two and three jobs. They can't actively participate in their parent's education.
NNAMDISo it seems to me that school officials have generally thrown up their hands and said, we cannot be responsible for parental involvement. The people over whom we do have influence are the teachers and the children.
SAUNDERSWell, you can say that. That's the position. And how we do it in terms of getting them involved is not admitting defeat in that area. For taxpayers who don't have children in a public school system this makes a lot of sense in terms of involving parties that don't cost you money, which happens to be the parents, in order to deliver a very good education to students. Now, you cannot admit defeat.
SAUNDERSAnd you cannot say, it's okay to continue to work your two jobs and don't necessarily focus on your kids' educational needs. It's your responsibility as a parent. It is just as important as that second job. And, many times, you -- when do -- we look in our society in the past and see parents who simply stopped the second jobs, so a parent could be home in order to raise a family, instill values and make sure that important concepts were perpetuated from one generation to the other.
NNAMDIDoug Prouty, what's your opinion of how the Race to the Top program and how the Obama administration's education policies are shaping the conversations about the future of your school district?
PROUTYWell, I think that the focus of Race to the Top in terms of focusing on teacher quality is the right focus. I just think that the way in which they're rewarding states for designing evaluation systems is wrong. I think the focus on standardized test scores as being an integral part of evaluation is fine, but it has to be more complex than just that.
PROUTYIt has to be more complex than giving a teacher a number and saying, either because of this number, you're doing great, or because of this number, you're doing poorly. It has to look at the entirety of the craft as well. So I think Race to the Top -- and, quite honestly, NCLB -- is good in that it's causing us to take a deeper look at every group of kids, kids who have been doing well traditionally and kids who have not been doing well.
PROUTYAnd we have much better data about that, and that's a good thing. We can't let any kid fall behind. But at the same time, to say that you can take a test like the MSA, which is the middle and elementary school test in the state of Maryland, and judge a teacher on the performance of the kids of that test, doesn't reflect the complexity of the work that we do.
NNAMDINCLB, of course, is No Child Left Behind. Nathan Saunders, has the District of Columbia school system ever tried a peer assistance and review evaluation system, as far you know?
SAUNDERSAs far as I know, the answer is no. And...
NNAMDIWould you advocate the District of Columbia trying such a system?
SAUNDERSI would. I absolutely would.
NNAMDIIf that system is done properly in the District of Columbia, are you confident that we will ultimately see -- ultimately in the District of Columbia these days means next year -- will we ultimately see an improvement in the test scores of the children in D.C. public schools?
SAUNDERSI believe so. And you will see an improvement in terms of the quality of the education environment as a whole.
NNAMDIAll right. We've got to take a short break, but we've got like a gazillion telephone calls. So stay on the line. If the lines are busy, go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. We will be coming back to continue this conversation on peer review and teachers looking at the Montgomery County model. 800-433-8850, or send us a tweet, @ kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about peer review and teachers looking at the Montgomery County model of peer assistance and review with Doug Prouty, president of the Montgomery County Education Association, which represents teachers in Montgomery County, Md., and Nathan Saunders, president of the Washington Teachers Union, which represents teachers in the District of Columbia.
NNAMDIA lot of you have been calling, so I will go directly to the telephones. We will start with Bill in Frederick, Md. Bill, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BILLYes. Good afternoon. How are you all doing today?
BILLGood, good. You know, I'm actually a former Washington, D.C., private school teacher. And I'll go ahead and leave the school nameless, but we did participate in the peer review model very similar to Montgomery County. However, chartered schools were not accounted for in the final decision of whether or not you were returning the following year. You know, as far as -- your peer style was very important.
BILLBut the final say was up to the headmaster of the school. But we did have that model, and I would say that I was a fan of it because, you know, it was very stressful to go through the process. But, if you were selected, you know, you really felt as if you had accomplished something amongst your peers as far as, you know, earning their respect as being a well-respected teacher. So...
NNAMDIYou're for peer review.
BILL...yeah, I'm totally for it. And that's pretty much my comment.
BILLI'd also like to, really quick, add, Doug, you were my English teacher in high school. You did a great job and go Dartmouth football. Thank you.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Bill. We go on to Russ in Washington, D.C. Russ, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RUSSHi. I'm calling because I kind of experienced both school systems, Montgomery County and the District. I live in Montgomery. My kids go out there. Well, three of my kids have gone through there or going through there. And the reason we moved to Montgomery County is because of the school system. I'm very happy with what's happening. I teach. I'm relatively a new teacher down here in D.C.
RUSSAnd while I have -- and I support the idea of having teacher review and any type of rigorous system to make the teachers better. I have experienced the IMPACT system here, which basically consist of having the principal coming, observe your class three times a year for half an hour, and a master educator who you don't know. Basically, you don't know who this person is.
RUSSAnd they basically -- they will sit in your class for half an hour, no more than half an hour, and they will evaluate, you know, you as a teacher, based on just a random half hour. So, basically, it amounts to twice a year, half hour. So these master educators will see you for an hour out of the whole school year and base your entire score on just these really very brief...
NNAMDINathan Saunders, is Russ, essentially, correct?
SAUNDERSHe is absolutely correct. And the master educators are controlled by management. There is absolutely no trust. In fact, as opposed to trust, there is tremendous fear when they show up at a school.
NNAMDIIndeed, I sense that fear in Russ' voice, Doug Prouty, and especially when he says, a master teacher who you don't know.
NNAMDIHow is it different in Montgomery County?
PROUTYWell, it's different in Montgomery County because we charge the consulting teachers with establishing up a good working relationship with its teachers with whom they're working. That's one of the most important parts of their training, and that's one of the most important parts of their work from day one. So before they do any...
NNAMDIAnd you call them consulting teachers, not master teachers.
PROUTYRight. They're called consulting teachers in Montgomery. And we want them to sit down and get to know each other, find out what the teacher is concerned about in terms of his or her work, find out what the teacher thinks his or her strengths are, find out about his or her approach to the subject in the class, find out about the individual characteristics of each class because you have to have a good relationship to be able to provide support.
PROUTYIt's the same way that teachers have to have good relationships with kids. You can't teach well if you can't establish a good bond with your students.
NNAMDIRuss, what you just heard Doug Prouty describe, would you prefer that than having the master teacher come around a few times a year?
RUSSI know all of us, where I teach, would. You know, that's the main thing we complain about. It's not the evaluation itself, but how it's done. And, you know, I think that the whole situation that we had with the teachers' unions here vigorously opposing Michelle Rhee, I think it had a lot to do with how fair that evaluation was administered.
NNAMDIOkay, Russ. Thank you very much for your call. On a technical point, I have to say, Nathan Saunders, that the Washington Teachers' Union at this point is not allowed to discuss evaluation in its bargaining sessions. Well, you can discuss it. But you don't have any say over it at this point.
SAUNDERSLet me say that I hope to be changing that very quickly.
NNAMDII know you do.
SAUNDERSI'm in court right now. I'm waiting for a court order right now.
NNAMDII know you do. Thank you for your call, Russ. Here is Parmilla (sp?) in Washington, D.C. Parmilla, your turn. Hi, Parmilla, are you there?
PARMILLAHi, Kojo. How are you doing today?
NNAMDII am well, Parmilla. Go right ahead.
PARMILLAKojo, I was a teacher in Ohio before I came to Washington, D.C. I won't go into the history of it, but just to make it very short that all my recommendations are absolutely, you know, just excellent, all the way throughout my teaching career of 22 years, Kojo. In Washington, D.C., I got back into teaching after 15 years, and I received wonderful evaluations, not only the evaluations that Michelle Rhee called were askew, that the principals gave everybody 30 out of 30, which wasn't true, but let us accept that it was.
PARMILLAI also had an outstanding teacher award at the end of every school year, Kojo. I had certificates of excellence for the Praxis exams that I took to get my certification to teach in D.C.
NNAMDIAnd what did this all do for you?
PARMILLAAll right. All this did for me was -- and my children were -- all of them achieved 100 percent proficiency. Some of my first-graders who came to me not knowing even their alphabet sounds were reading over 100 words per minute.
NNAMDILet me suggest what all of this did for you. Are you now employed in the D.C. public schools as a teacher?
PARMILLANo, no. I was RIF'ed without a reason. I was not told what I'm doing wrong. The IMPACT system went into effect in September, Kojo, and we were let go in October, the second of October. Nobody had a chance to come and review my teaching. Nobody had a chance to review my...
NNAMDIWhat is your understanding about why you were RIF'ed? Well, that's a reduction in force. But what is your understanding about why you?
PARMILLAWhy was I RIF'ed? Of all the teachers in the building whose children did not score as well as mine did, nowhere near it, no other school's first grade...
NNAMDIWell, I heard your point, Parmilla. Nathan Saunders, I think there's also another court case involving teachers like Parmilla, isn't there?
SAUNDERSAbsolutely. In 2009, 266 teachers were RIF'ed under former Chancellor Michelle Rhee, under the auspices that the District had a financial shortfall, when, in reality, once the investigation was finished, the city council had appropriated the money. The chancellor chose to spend the money on something else, and it resulted in the careers being prematurely ended.
SAUNDERSThe mayor, who was chairman at that time, expressed a tremendous amount of outrage. But I am still waiting for him to correct it as mayor. And we need to keep our pressure on.
NNAMDIWe'll get to that in one second. But there was a widespread perception before Michelle Rhee even became school's chancellor in the District of Columbia that it was impossible to fire bad teachers in the District of Columbia, even as test scores in the District of Columbia were not measuring up. And I suspect that one of the reasons why Michelle Rhee had the kind of support she did is because she did prove to be successful in getting rid of what people may have perceived to have been bad teachers.
SAUNDERSWell, we should -- I think you can't have this conversation without talking about termination of teachers because it kind of goes hand in hand. And, unfortunately, people believe the school system is good if they fire a whole bunch of teachers. Well, that's disappointing. But reality is, under Clifford Janey who was a superintendent who preceded Michelle Rhee hundreds of teachers were fired for performance reasons and other reasons.
SAUNDERSHe just didn't see to get on Time magazine and do it. And he didn't want his own TV show while he did it.
NNAMDIWell, let's forget about the past for a second. Since we've got you here right now, Kaya Henderson, the acting chancellor for the D.C. Public Schools, is up for confirmation with the D.C. City Council today. How would you describe your working relationship with her? How do you feel about the idea of her moving into the permanent role? How do you feel she is responding to your own ideas about peer review?
SAUNDERSA lot of questions, Kojo...
SAUNDERS...and important issues. She is for confirmation today, and I'm going to testify as soon as I get out of here. The reality is that I expressed some reservations about the Kaya Henderson skills, her former affiliation with Michelle Rhee. I know there are some issues that were problematic and which she was engaged in under Michelle Rhee. However, the mayor has a right to choose his chancellor of his public school system. He is her choice.
SAUNDERSWe have been meeting, trying to work issues out, not just going forward, but issues associated with the past, issues associated with 266 teachers, issues associated with court cases, issue associated with how we -- how Kaya Henderson and Nathan Saunders deals with each other to deliver the highest quality education for kids in the District.
NNAMDISo you seem to have a decent relationship with her. Have you talked to her about your own ideas about peer review? And how has she responded?
SAUNDERSYes. I've talked with her about peer review type of ideas. And, really, what Doug talks about is when peer review is about professional development, helping people become better. She is a believer in professional development. However, the process that the District is -- a fundamental principle right now that the District is engaged in is that it is the teacher's responsibility to get better and not management.
SAUNDERSAnd we need to get away from that concept in the District and start helping people be better teachers.
NNAMDIDoug Prouty, you're also about to get new leadership in Montgomery County. Longtime Superintendent Jerry Weast is stepping down, and Joshua Starr will be taking his place in just a few weeks. What do you make of Josh Starr's record? What are your hopes for the ideas that he has for the system?
PROUTYWell, I'm very impressed with the fact that he has articulated a belief that testing does not reflect everything that happens in a classroom. He's articulated belief that it doesn't reflect the complexity of the work that we do, which I've said several times today already. He's also articulated belief that what we have in place in Montgomery County is working. We just need to work to improve it. I think that's always true in education.
PROUTYIt's also clear that he has spent a lot of time looking at our school system and knows well the kind of work that we do. He's used it as a model for some of the work that he did in Stamford, Conn. So I think he's quite promising. I think he's going to keep us rolling along, you know, have -- it's a good time, I think, for a review of the work that we're doing, to sit down and really assess it and see what we can improve and what we can keep, which I'm looking forward to doing with Dr. Starr.
NNAMDIWell, on those two optimistic notes, we should really end the broadcast. But, hey, we never do that. Here's Angelo in Washington, D.C. Angelo, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANGELOHi. Thanks, Kojo. It's a great show. One of the things about IMPACT, IMPACT costs a lot of money for the school district. They've invested an awful lot of money, and there's also an awful lot of ego invested in it. And as a teacher in the system, I can tell you that it looks to the teachers as a crazy kind of thing in many ways. There are a lot of good aspects to it, the aspects that are based on best teaching practices. There's no argument there.
ANGELOBut there is a problem in that, you know, these guys show up unannounced. We're supposed to send them our schedule, and it's as if that schedule is locked in marble, like somebody chiseled it or something. And anybody who teaches knows that, on any given day, your schedule changes. I have switched -- in our school, we actually have specials, so I have switched special times with other teachers.
ANGELOAnd, you know, I've had master educators show up when I've been in a special 'cause they had my old schedule. And you try to keep them up to date, but the fact that they're just showing up whenever doesn't give you an idea. And I know it's all part of this they don't want us pulling out a practiced teaching lesson for us to dog and pony show.
NNAMDIAngelo, we're running out of time very quickly. But I guess that you think that, as other callers have, that there needs to be a better relationship between the, as they're called in Montgomery County, consultant teachers, or, in D.C., master teachers, and the teachers whom they are evaluating. We are ultimately going to have to end on that note. Doug Prouty, thank you for joining us.
PROUTYThanks for having me.
NNAMDIDoug Prouty is the president of the Montgomery County Education Association, which represents teachers in Montgomery County, Md. Nathan Saunders, thank you for joining us.
SAUNDERSIt's always a pleasure.
NNAMDINathan Saunders is president of the Washington Teachers' Union, which represents public school teachers in the District of Columbia. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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