The Hillsborough County school district is moving in the right direction by instituting peer review as part of its process for evaluating the performance of classroom teachers. But the district's case against a teacher who says the process is flawed should remind school officials to be open and sensible in carrying out these reforms.
The district suspended Joseph Thomas after the 43-year-old high school social studies teacher objected to his assigned peer evaluator, a 29-year-old teacher who has taught at the elementary level since being hired by the district in 2005. In a story published over the weekend, Johnson told the Times' Marlene Sokol that the arrangement was akin to having "a dentist professionally judge a heart surgeon." That's an overstatement, but Johnson has a point worthy of discussion. He refused to cooperate, and the district suspended him for insubordination.
The district is in the second year of a project aimed at better assessing teacher performance. The process uses a combination of highly structured evaluations by a peer, the principal and data including test scores. The objectives of the project are to aid in teacher development and to give the district a baseline for awarding pay and promotion on merit, rather than on seniority.
School officials say they try to pair teachers with evaluators who have taught similar courses and grade levels. They also say that with the right training, peer evaluators can work effectively regardless of the subject area or grade level they are overseeing. The system also allows teachers to request a different evaluator than the one assigned. District officials said they would consider Thomas' request. Thomas also said after meeting with school officials Monday that he is open to a compromise.
Both sides should resolve this issue and look toward creating a process that resolves any future cases without having to resort to disciplinary action. Thomas indicated that his concerns went beyond the immediate issue of his assigned evaluator. He said the new review program tends to target veteran teachers, and he believes the district will lose experienced instructors. There is no evidence yet to suggest those concerns are valid. And while the teachers union will defend Thomas, the union cooperated with the district in getting the new review program — funded by a $100 million grant from the Gates Foundation — off the ground.
The Gates program is arguably the most high-profile project the district has ever undertaken. The district and the union have a vested interest in having it succeed. That will require peer evaluators to have credibility both inside and outside the organization — and to have experience and backgrounds suited to best assess the performance of the teacher they are observing.