The Peer Assistance and Evaluation Program, started in 1985, uses teacher consultants who are master teachers in various subject areas to assist and evaluate all beginning teachers and veteran teachers who show serious deficiencies in their teaching skills or classroom practices.
The district wants to reduce costs by no longer having the consultants evaluate or assist new teachers, which the teacher's union contends is critical because principals don't have time for this task.
The district contends that the principals' responsibilities will be refocused to allow time for these evaluations, and that lead teachers in the schools might do the mentoring.
"It's a dumb idea, contrary to all national research," said Tom Mooney, CFT president.
The peer review reductions are among many proposed and planned for Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS).
In addition to the peer review program, the proposed budget cuts would eliminate at least 150 teaching positions, 195 instructor assistants, seven assistant principals and several support staff and reduce funds to teacher training programs.
Several of the proposed cuts, including those that affect the peer review program, must be negotiated with the union.
The bottom line, Mooney said, is a negative impact on students.
Superintendent Steven Adamowski proposed reducing the number of consulting teachers from 21 to 12, cutting $638,500 from the program.
The program, Mooney said, has two goals: to support and help new teachers who would otherwise "sink or swim" on their own and to work with veteran teachers who are showing deficiencies in their teaching skills or classroom practices.
Mooney said the program is essential to retain new teachers. With many teachers of the baby boom generation retiring and with national attrition rates for new teachers at 50 percent in the first seven years nationwide, retaining new teachers is vital, he said.
This year, consulting teachers evaluated 213 teachers, rating 32 less than satisfactory with 19 of the 32 rated marginal. Those 19 teachers will be coached and mentored for another year before a final decision is made about their employment, Mooney said.
Twelve teachers have been recommended for dismissal at the end of the school year because of poor teaching performance.
The consulting teachers' recommendations will next go before the Peer Review Panel, an oversight committee of CPS teachers and administrators. It will consider any appeals by teachers rated less than satisfactory and vote on the consulting teachers' recommendations. The panel's vote constitutes a recommendation to the superintendent, who makes a final decision.
Mooney said the superintendent "nearly always follows the (consulting teachers') recommendations."
The program also allows for due process when dealing with dismissing teachers. Mooney said only three dismissals over poor teaching performance have gone to arbitration since the program began. Before the program began, there were at least that many each year, he said.
He said the administration is "using the excuse of the budget cuts to make unilateral changes in the program."
In simplest terms, he said, this is a situation where the union is fighting for the right to fire incompetent teachers, and the superintendent wants to stop that.
"It is a whim, a bureaucratic impulse," he said.
Mooney said changes to the program include no longer having consulting teachers evaluate beginning teachers. Rather, they would be evaluated by principals, something he said principals do not have time to do. And they definitely don't have time to mentor struggling teachers, he said.
Jan Leslie, CPS director of public affairs, said the principals' responsibilities will be refocused to allow time for these evaluations, and that lead teachers in the schools might do the mentoring.
Mooney said that in order for students to meet the higher standards they are now being held to, teachers must be more highly trained, not less.
"The national research is increasingly concluding that the quality of teachers is the most important factor in gains in student achievement," he said.
Cutting programs that strengthen teacher quality will lead to a decline in student achievement, he said.
Programs like the Peer Assistance and Evaluation Program were developed before the district's strategic plan -- an attempt to decentralize services and give schools more autonomy, she said.
The goal, she said, is to move money and responsibility away from the central offices to the individual schools. Giving dollars to schools on a per-pupil basis would allow the schools to purchase services from either the central administration or the union, she said.
"It's giving schools more authority," she said.
Leslie said the remaining 12 consulting teachers would focus on evaluating veteran teachers with continuing contracts in the core teaching areas such as mathematics, science and reading, instead of all 13 teaching areas that now are evaluated.
The proposed budget cuts are an attempt to cut $20 million from budget for the 1999-2000 school year, $10 million of which are temporary, and would be restored if an operating levy would pass in November 1999, district officials said. ©