Teachers should be allowed to rate the performance of fellow instructors and aid in their dismissal, the nation’s largest teachers union agreed Saturday, marking a shift in the union’s mission.
The voice vote by the National Education Association’s representative assembly was seen as a test of the organization’s effort to change its popular image. The NEA has been lambasted by politicians and other critics as an industrial trade union concerned chiefly with wages and defending its members jobs at the expense of education.
A majority of the 9,000 delegates agreed that the move was necessary.
“If we don’t control this profession … we are going to regret it,” said Gary Blumenstein, of Virginia Beach, Va., noting the public attention to teacher performance.
“We are in a battle to save public education,” said Linda Bacon, head of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association in Largo, Fla.
This was a major victory for the leadership of Bob Chase, the NEA head who was been promoting a “new unionism” since he took office last year. Under its new mission, the union would stress more cooperation with school boards and administrators in exchange for a broader role in decision making.
That also means a role in policing the quality of teachers.
The measure was clearly divisive.
Larry C. Carlin, of Live Oak, Calif., said the 900 California delegates were 54 percent opposed and 46 percent in favor during a test vote within the caucus. The state union represents 269,000 teachers.
“It pits teacher against teacher,” Carlin said.
Others said peer review would erode member trust in the union’s role as worker advocate in a hostile world.
“I want to be their protector,” said Dennis Testa, president of the New Jersey Education Association.
Under the measure, states and local school systems would be allowed to set up peer assistance and review programs, run by union teachers and the school district.
Seattle and a number of Ohio cities have already established them, despite the national union’s official opposition.
Under peer review and assistance, all beginning teachers and those veteran teachers who are identified as doing substandard work would be assigned a mentor to help and coach the teachers.
If the teachers still didn’t measure up, they would be encouraged to leave the profession. If that didn’t work, the peer review panel would recommend dismissal.
A last-minute amendment approved by the delegates would allow the teacher in question to approve the mentor.
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