Before 1981, teacher contracts in Toledo Public Schools of Ohio were normally unquestioned and unbreakable. Agreements between the Toledo Federation of Teachers union and the district management set the original standards for Toledo's teacher contracts, and assigned control of evaluation and dismissal of teachers to school principals. Rarely, however, were teachers dismissed for underperformance. Bearing the brunt of problematic teaching, students could face years of negative school experiences. Rigid roles for teachers and administrators incited tensions between the two groups and blocked teachers from influencing the quality of the profession through expert evaluation.
The Toledo Plan changed the culture of school "ownership" by enacting the first union-district agreement of its kind--a peer review program granting the responsibility of support and evaluation of teacher performance to experienced teachers.
The concept of peer review--teachers assessing performance and employment status of fellow teachers--met with heavy resistance when it was first conceived in 1973 by a former president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers. The original idea aimed to monitor the quality of rookie teachers through internships and recommendations by peers for rehire or termination. Although it took almost a decade to negotiate, the final Plan was accepted by the District because it included peer review and interventions for both first year and experienced teachers. With the addition of a peer review system for struggling veteran teachers, the District management decided to relinquish its responsibility to evaluate teachers referred to peer review, while the union agreed to honor the binding decisions resulting through the program.
Since its inception, the Toledo Plan has attempted to ensure fairness in peer review. A rigorous process of interviews, recommendations, and observations selects for appropriate mentor teachers. Once they are designated as "consulting teachers," mentor teachers spend three years fully released from teaching duties, and receive salaries above their normal salaries. Consulting teachers carry a caseload of about 12 teachers, providing "intensive support," classroom observations, and mentorship throughout the academic year. Consulting teachers present their assessments twice a year to a joint union-management Board of Review, which consists of four administrators and five teachers. The Board, a check on peer assessments, votes on consulting teachers' evidence from spending time in classrooms of intern teachers and referred veteran teachers. Decisions are binding, but not final; a teacher may appeal to the Board.
The Toledo Plan has been praised by its authors and disciples for creating a sense of professional mobility, for promoting cohesiveness among teachers, and as a system by which schools do not subject students to detrimental practices. According to current Toledo Plan administrators, veteran teachers often choose retirement or resignation over a lengthy intervention process, thus decreasing the district's enormous legal expenses for implementing a termination. In addition, among the State's urban districts, Columbus and Cincinnati who replicated the Toledo Plan in the late 1980s have had the best overall results on "proficiency" tests given throughout the State to fourth, sixth, and ninth graders. Supporters of the Toledo Plan hope to find a definitive correlation between peer review and improved student performance.
Although the Toledo Plan serves as an example for district-union partnerships, teacher appeals cases from the peer review process have brought attention to racial and gender disparities in the Toledo school district. In 2002, the Toledo Blade newspaper reported a trend of the enrollment of more male and minority students with a simultaneous increase in the percentage of female and white teachers; the Plan's role in equitable hiring, training, and teacher evaluations will be vital to understanding and addressing this trend.
Proponents of the Toledo Plan continue to accentuate the benefits of peer review in public education--from quality teaching for students to teacher aspirations to stay in the classroom. Sharing its structure and transforming ability with California's public schools and other cities' school districts, the Toledo Plan has remained a prime model for union-administration teamwork.