Ask any student or parent, and they would probably tell you that there are some teachers who they feel shouldn’t be teaching.
There is a prevailing myth out there that public schools can’t get rid of “bad” teachers. I want to set the record straight: We can and we do. While the majority of teachers are top-notch professionals who are doing outstanding jobs, there are some teachers who need extra support to do a better job or who may need to move into a different profession.
In the San Francisco Unified School District, we have a collaborative program called the Peer Assistance Review, designed to support struggling teachers and help them improve. Our program, modeled after one that began in Ohio, is a collaboration between the school district and United Educators of San Francisco. PAR provides a way for underperforming teachers to either dramatically improve their practices or move out of their teaching positions.
In the SFUSD, PAR provides substantial resources in the form of a teacher coach who observes, coaches and guides the teacher with the intent of improving his or her teaching. It also comes with the substantial consequences of being fired if the teacher does not meet the standards.
After participating in the peer review, some teachers go back to the classroom refreshed, renewed and inspired to provide their very best, which our students deserve. Some don’t meet the necessary standards even after participating in the program and are either removed or, more often, decide on their own accord that it’s time to move on from their teaching positions.
When the SFUSD asked voters in 2008 to pass the Quality Teacher Education Act, we asked for funding to increase teacher salaries and we also promised to increase teacher accountability. That measure has allowed us to make the PAR program the most rigorous of its kind in the state. Whereas before only teachers with unsatisfactory ratings were referred to PAR, since 2009, teachers with “needs improvement” ratings on their evaluations are also referred to the program.
This change singlehandedly increased the pool of teachers going through the PAR process by 300 percent. Teachers who recognize a need can also voluntarily participate in PAR to receive support from a coach.
I believe everyone goes into teaching with the best of intentions. It is a vitally important and noble profession that requires a lot of skill, including the ability to continuously grow and learn. With the help of city taxpayers, we’re paying our San Francisco public school teachers more and holding them accountable to standards of excellence in the teaching profession.
Carlos A. Garcia is superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.