Teachers Evaluating Teachers: Peer Review and the New Unionism – LIEBERMANN (CSS)

LIEBERMAN, Myron. Teachers Evaluating Teachers: Peer Review and the New Unionism. New Brunswick. N.J.: Transaction Publishers and Social Philosophy and Policy Centre, 1998. 137p. Resenha de: BRILEY, Ron. Canadian Social Studies, v.35, n.2, 2001.

In Teachers Evaluating Teachers, Myron Lieberman, a senior research scholar of the Social Philosophy and Policy Center, takes issue with peer review as a means through which to address the crisis in American public education. Lieberman, who has served as a chief negotiator for school districts during collective bargaining, asserts that teacher unions, such as the National Education Association (NEA) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT), have blocked educational reform by protecting the employment status of incompetent teachers.

However, Lieberman acknowledges that the teacher unions, conscious of growing public criticism, have attempted to alter their image by embracing the new unionism, which the author finds to be an undefined and ambiguous concept. The concept of peer review is representative of the new unionism which the teacher unions, based primarily upon what the NEA and AFT perceive as successful experiments in the public schools of Columbus and Toledo, Ohio, have championed as a method by which teachers needing assistance may receive evaluation and mentoring from peer consulting teachers.

Lieberman attacks the reform of peer review as a sham. The educational consultant asserts that results on student standardized tests (the panacea of contemporary American education) have not increased in schools using peer review. In addition, the process is costly and bureaucratic, while good teachers are taken out of the classroom to serve as consulting teachers. Thus, Lieberman concludes that peer review may actually hinder rather than support the cause of educational reform in the public schools. Instead, he advocates that teachers eschew collective bargaining and the traditional union model in favor of professional organizations which would allow for more individual choice among teachers; protection of occupational minorities, such as skilled mathematics teachers; and advocate what Lieberman terms as occupational citizenship.

Indeed, there is much one may find to criticize in teacher unions; however, Lieberman is hardly an unbiased observer, for he represents the Social Philosophy and Policy Center, which supports privatization, vouchers, competition, and the market system as the solution for America’s public schools. Of course, this is the same market system which rewards professional wrestler/entertainers so lavishly and teachers so poorly. Lieberman also demonstrates little respect for teachers; a public attitude which, along with low pay, has contributed to the problems of American education. For example, he pokes fun at the idea that teachers would be the ones most capable of establishing their own professional development plans. He assumes that they would seek salary credit for courses that are the easiest, the most convenient, or the least expensive (102). Nor does Lieberman express much appreciation for the role played by the labor movement in American history. Lieberman writes: The union movement in the U. S. emerged as a response to what was perceived to be the excessive power of the employers over individual employees (8). What does he mean by perceived? Was Lieberman simply daydreaming when his history teacher covered the excesses of American capitalism in the late nineteenth century?

Lieberman’s book is a contribution to the growing political debate regarding the direction of public education in America; a policy matter which emerged as a major issue in the 2000 Presidential campaign. However, Lieberman is hardly a disinterested participant in this dialogue, and readers of this volume should keep those biases in mind. As for this reviewer, who is a teacher in an independent school and not a union member, there remains considerable pride in serving alongside public and private school colleagues, who are among the most dedicated professionals in the world.

Ron Briley – Sandia Preparatory School. Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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