By Barbara Miner

Cincinnati’s teacher quality initiatives involve three separate but interrelated components:

  • Peer Assistance and Evaluation, a 20-year-old program under which experienced teachers leave the classroom for three years to help evaluate and mentor both new and veteran teachers.

  • Career in Teaching, a 15-year program that allows teachers to advance without leaving teaching and entering administration. Under the program, teachers agree to be evaluated to earn lead teacher status. Lead teachers become building level leaders, such as department chairs or program facilitators, and also are eligible to be hired as peer evaluators and mentors. Lead teachers have additional responsibilities, work extra days, and receive $5,000– 6,000 a year more in pay. Of about 2,700 teachers in the district, slightly more than 400 are qualified to take lead teacher positions, according to union officials.

  • Teacher Evaluation System, uniformly referred to as TES, which is used to evaluate new and veteran teachers and also those who wish to become lead teachers or get tenure (Cincinnati does not have automatic tenure).

Both the peer assistance and career teaching programs are, at this point, firmly embedded into the culture of district. Even when they have criticisms, few question their fundamental merits. Safeguards have also been built into the system so that teachers do not use the Career in Teaching program to take a permanent hiatus from the classroom and lose touch with the day-to-day realities of teaching. For instance, evaluating and mentor teachers may hold their positions for only three years, and then have go to back into the classroom for one year, at which point they can apply again to be an evaluator.

Initially, some critics felt that teachers would be “soft” on their colleagues. Those critics were wrong, however. In the peer evaluation program’s first year, for instance, 5 percent of beginning teachers were dismissed, compared to 1.6 percent of those evaluated by principals.

TES is the most complicated of the programs. Its current form was developed about five years ago and is based on the work of Charlotte Danielson, an educational consultant and author who formerly worked at the Educational Testing Service. TES attempts to make explicit what are often intuitive understandings of good teaching practices. It encompasses four teaching domains (planning and preparing for student learning; creating an environment for leaning; teaching for learning; and professionalism) and 15 standards broken down into 32 elements — for example, lesson effectiveness, student engagement, family involvement, and participation at the school level. Based on a rubric, teachers receive one of four possible ratings for each element: distinguished, proficient, basic, or unsatisfactory.

Overall, the standards and elements are based on six common themes the union and administration have jointly decided are essential to good teaching: equity, cultural sensitivity, high expectations, developmental appropriateness, inclusionary practices, and appropriate use of technology. Those evaluated under TES include all new hires and all those seeking to become lead or tenured teachers; veteran teachers on a regular basis (this year it is ninth year veterans); and those placed on “intervention” or carried over into a second year because they did not pass certain evaluation areas the first year.

Teacher evaluators and administrators who receive special training conduct the evaluations, which involve at least two classroom visits. New hires and those on intervention or carried over receive six observations and ongoing assistance. Finally, teachers are also expected to reflect on their practice and, depending on the level of evaluation, provide information on matters such as grading decisions, involvement in professional activities, and examples of student work.

About 350 teachers will be evaluated under TES this year. They include new teachers, veterans, and those seeking lead teacher status. There are 16 teachers working full time on evaluations and mentoring this year, according to Sheryl Mobley-Brown, a lead teacher acting as the district’s TES facilitator.