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Teachers' union supports peer review

July 15, 1997

By ELLEN LYON

Staff Writer

The concept of teachers grading the classroom performances of other teachers has won the support of both the National Education Association and some Tri-State area teachers' union officials.

"We're just policing our own. Doctors do it in the medical profession. Lawyers do it. There's no reason why we shouldn't do it," said Tom Lange, vice president of the West Virginia Teachers Association.

Lange was a delegate to the National Education Association's representative assembly held at the end of June and the beginning of July in Atlanta. Representatives to the assembly passed by voice vote a measure approving peer review among teachers.

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The measure is "aimed at a mentoring situation" for new, struggling or recently reassigned teachers, Washington County Teachers Association President Sharon Chirgott said.

"I don't think it's as judgmental as it's been portrayed," said Chirgott, who also attended the association's assembly.

Whether to institute a peer review system remains a local decision, she said.

Under the system, beginning teachers and veteran teachers who are identified as doing substandard work would be coached by mentors whom they had approved.

If the teacher didn't improve and declined to leave the profession, the peer review panel could recommend dismissal.

Teachers would have the right to challenge dismissals under state teacher tenure laws, according to association head Bob Chase.

The Maryland caucus of the association as a whole supported the peer review measure, although individuals within the caucus opposed the idea, Chirgott said.

Chirgott said she doesn't know whether peer review will be implemented locally but said she would support it "if it's a case of me helping a new teacher that might be struggling."

Washington County School Board President B. Marie Byers said she likes the idea of peer review among teachers.

"I think it's a splendid idea. I think it's a very professional way of looking at evaluations," said Byers, a former elementary school teacher.

Byers said she would like to see evaluation teams consist of the principal, a fellow teacher and the instructional supervisor of the teacher being evaluated.

"I would have a teacher select a teacher to evaluate them," she said. The evaluating teacher would have to come from the same discipline as the teacher being evaluated.

In Washington County, tenured teachers now are evaluated every two years and nontenured teachers every year by their principal and instructional supervisor, Byers said.

West Virginia already has three-member "improvement teams" consisting of administrators and at least one teacher in the same discipline as the teacher being evaluated and selected by him or her, Lange said.

The team observes the instructor in action and makes suggestions, he said.

Since many of the conditions under which teachers work are specified in the West Virginia Code, Lange said he doesn't see peer review coming to his state "in the near future."

Dave Snyder, president of the Chambersburg Area Education Association, said implementation of peer review in Pennsylvania might involve having to change the state code.

Snyder has another reservation about peer review.

"Teachers have so much to do now, trying to find the time to instruct the kids," making calls to parents and performing other duties, he said.

"In theory, I like the idea," Snyder said. "There's just no way people would have the time" unless the school district gave teachers the time by removing some other responsibilities from them.

For those school districts interested in setting up a peer review system, the association will send out guidelines, Lange said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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