Peer mentors for all?

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Posted July 12, 2007– Just one year in, an experiment with a new form of teacher evaluation is so far meeting union demands for fairness and the school district’s need to dismiss ineffective teachers.

Peer evaluation and mentoring is a cornerstone of the teacher-led turnaround of eight “Fresh Start” schools.

Full-time peer mentors formally observe new teachers in their classrooms on five separate occasions, and pop in unannounced about 10 times. In follow up meetings, the mentors give feedback and provide instructional guidance, a level of support that surpasses what is available to most other Chicago teachers.

First-year results of the pilot, in terms of teacher dismissals, proved that peers can be as tough on teachers as principals. Eight of the 133 new teachers at Fresh Start schools, or 6 percent, were fired, cuts that were determined by a review committee comprised of union and district officials.

By contrast, 8 percent of probationary teachers were let go districtwide in recent years, says Marc Wigler, who oversees CTU’s Fresh Start schools.

That means new teachers in Fresh Start schools faced pressure to perform, but had a slightly better chance to remain on the job, he says.

As Chicago Public Schools ponders changes to its teacher evaluation system, the Fresh Start schools’ experience may offer some direction. The district has already decided to use a noted evaluation rubric developed by education consultant Charlotte Danielson, and now it is weighing the option of tapping peer mentors to conduct a test run of the new process in 2008.

CPS administrator Amanda Rivera sounds a promising note on the prospect of using peer mentors rather than principals to evaluate teachers. “We’d love to have mentors who are mentoring teachers in their [subject] area or at least in their grade levels,” she says.