NE TURN - Serious About Teacher Support & Evaluation

West Cambridge, MA (Sept 23, 2011) ~ The title of this blog article is taken from a recently published study that provides fresh evidence about the effectiveness and efficacy of teacher peer assistance and review programs.  It is also describes the tone of the fall meeting of Northeast Region TURN, as 35 participants from 8 northeast states were updated on national policies, practices and research; and engaged in conversations with local leaders who are pushing the envolope in developing more rigorous and comprehensive teacher evalation systems.

The keynote by Dr. W. Patrick Dolan, Lead Educational Consultant GE Foundation, addressed the changing landscape of public education and the implications for teacher unions. The message was similar to the that which he has been delivering to TURN audiences around the country, with one significant difference. The northeast region provides interesting learning - due to the influx of federal dollars from RTTT and SIG (all states in the region are funded through one or the other of the federal programs).  

In some northeastern states the local (usually large, urban districts) are leading the innovation - often through the use of SIG funds geared to schools and classrooms. (e.g. Portland, ME)  In other states, the state is taking a lead (e.g. the Massachusetts Teachers Association). 

Another regular at TURN meetings, Jo Anderson, Senior Advisor, US Department of Education, engaged participants in a conversation about the practicalities of the RTTT and SIG programs, and the implications of the just-announced policy for granting waivers to No Child Left Behind.  Needless to say, the increased flexibility in federal policy was welcome news to the teacher union leaders in the room.  Continuing the current events theme, Mr. Anderson, recommended two recently-published resources:

The Humphrey/Koppich PAR study provides fresh evidence that teacher peer assistance and review programs offer a rigorous and comprehensive way to evaluate teachers. The study comes on the heels of the California Department of Education’s Blueprint for Great Schools, which recommends the establishment of a Commission on Educator Excellence to identify and implement teacher support and evaluation systems. 

Also on the agenda: 

  • A panel discussion with Union Leaders from RTTT states (Delaware, Massachusetts, New York, & Rhode Island), and SIG districts in Maine and Vermont
  • A presentation/demonstration by Steve Owens, Vermont-NEA Executive Board, on "Sharing the Work; Keeping connected via social media and TURNexchange.Net"   
  • An account of Secretary Duncan’s bus tour - meeting with teachers and teachers unions.  Maryann Woods Murphy, a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow and former New Jersey State Teacher of the Year was on the bus tour and recently blogged about Toledo's PAR system on 
  • An update on Implementation of MTA's Teacher Evaluation Model, by Kathleen Skinner, MTA Director of Policy and Practice, by Kathleen Skinner, MTA Director of Policy and Practices
  • Presentations from two locals working with Peer Assistance and Review Programs: Syracuse, NY, which has implemented PAR since 2005; and Cambridge, MA, which is just beginning to explore ways to implement PAR throughout their system.

Note: Cambridge is a member of the NEA Foundation Institute for Teaching and Learning, which is working with a cohort of union-management teams across the country to support their efforts to work collaboratively to improve teaching effectiveness and student learning.  

According to NE TURN Coordinator, Maureen Logan, this meeting was a turning point in terms of the the level of interest in peer assistance and review.  “It seems that PAR may be finding its way to New England,” says Logan, “PAR and the building labor-management teams will probably be the focus of our next meeting, February 3, 2012 in Boston.”


  1. Gamal Sherif says:
    Notes on NE TURN Mtg_Sep 23, 2011

    What a terrific meeting.  Below are a few comments on 2 presentations as well as aa few recommendations.

    PRESENTATION #1 - The Changing Landscape of Public Education, by W. Patrick Dolan:
    Pat presented an overview of public education that suggested the pace of reform far exceeds the capacity of ED, state DOEs, local LEAs, unions, etc..  And not only are policy decisions being made at the apex of a power/influence triangle, where Pat places ED, but those policy decisions are directed at the bottom of the power/influence triangle, i.e. classrooms, where teachers have little, if any, power/influence. 

    PRESENTATION #2 - Waiver review and national union responses, by Jo Anderson:
    Jo gave a terrific overview/summary of ED's position on NCLB waivers.  His clear explanations elevated the group's understandings about the waivers.  For example, Jo's outline of a graduated timeline for state's alignment to waiver agreements provided context to Pat's sense of urgency.  Jo's real-time quotations of AFT's and NEA's responses to the waivers was well-timed.

    1)  Is there a place to insert the "purpose" of public education along side Pat Dolan's "structure" and "function?"  Would there be any difference in how we imagine and frame policy if we were to consider the purpose of [public] education rather than only the structure and function?
    2)  Revisit the role of teachers in "Teachers" Union Reform Network.  Of 34 participants, only 5 were practicing classroom teachers.  4 of those are or have been Teacher Ambassador Fellows with ED.  3 of those were participating on behalf of ED.  As an extension of the TURN's emphasis on the professionalization of teachers, what can be done to steward more teacher involvement in TURN? Specific suggestions may include:
    a) Each union attending TURN should bring at least one teacher to the next meeting (Feb 3, 2012 in Boston).
    b) Unions should work with districts to ensure that teachers take advantage of release/study* time for this type of professional development.  By involving teachers in TURN-type conferences, the teaching profession (and unions) will build capacity.
    c) Create "teacher research" positions within each school where .25 to .5 of a teacher's contract is bought out by the district, union or 3rd party so that teacher have the time to study policy and participate in and/or influence decision-making.

    d)  Sustain a professional development/PLC model for union leaders.  If TURN can serve as an opportunity for union leaders to collaborate and support each other, then terrific.  Maybe break-out sessions (for a larger group) would help more people find what they are looking for.  On the other hand, it would be terrific for union leaders and classroom teachers to spend more time with each other, so why separate?

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