Is PAR a Good Investment? Understanding the Costs and benefits of Teacher Peer Assistance and Review Programs

Issue/Topic: Teaching Quality--Evaluation and Effectiveness
Author(s): Papay, John; Johnson, Susan
Publication: Educational Policy
Published On: 2011

With evidence mounting that the quality of teachers' work is crucial to students' learning, policy makers and school district officials have intensified the search for ways to attract, support, and retain effective teachers. One reform for improving teacher quality - Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) - focuses not only on supporting and assessing individual teachers but also on expanding the capacity of the school and district to improve teaching and learning.

To examine the costs and benefits of PAR, both financially and organizational.


  • Two main benefits of PAR have clear financial implications for districts: increased teacher retention and lower arbitration and dismissal costs.
    • Districts credit PAR with increasing retention substantially. This is important because studies suggest that the financial costs of teacher turnover are high.
      • Saves local school resources on recruitment, hiring, and training new teachers.
      • Teachers become more effective in the classroom, encouraging them to continue teaching.
      • Enriches careers of veteran teachers by offering differentiated roles, encouraging them to continue teaching.
    • Districts officials argue that PAR reduces costs of teacher dismissal. The exorbitant costs of teacher dismissal proceedings clearly justify the program's expenses for any district that would otherwise pursue dismissal.
      • PAR can improve personnel practices and avoid the costly mistake of granting tenure to teachers who do not meet the district standards. Additionally, tenured teachers assigned to the PAR intervention program often choose to resign or retire instead of facing normal dismissal.
        • When districts do progress to formal dismissal proceedings, the detailed PAR procedures and thorough review by "consulting teachers" (CTs) ensure that teachers' due process rights are met and that union leaders meet their legal duty of fair representation.
  • PAR operates through several avenues to raise student achievement.
    • Provides a strong induction program which helps new teachers get off to a successful start. This induces novice teachers to remain in the district beyond their first year.
    • Retaining more teachers who have been effective in their first year will contribute more to student achievement than replacing them with other novices.
    • Intervention programs help many under-performing experienced teachers get back on track.
  • Organizational benefits of PAR include building a positive organizational culture centered on instruction, improving labor-management relationships at the district and school levels, alleviating burdens on principals, and providing professional development and career opportunities for CTs.
  • PAR served to strengthen the human capital system by developing both teacher leaders and future administrators.

Policy Implications/Recommendations:

Implications for Peer Assistance and Review (PAR)

  • PAR improves teacher quality and classroom instruction in several ways, by increasing the frequency and effectiveness of classroom evaluations, helping districts retain effective teachers, and encouraging districts to dismiss teachers who are not succeeding with their students.
Implications for Studies of Educational Costs and Benefits
  1. Analysts must understand thoroughly not only the program itself but also the types of efforts that it replaces.
  2. Rough cost-benefit analyses are possible and worthwhile for assessing educational interventions, even without clear quantitative evidence of the program's outcomes.
  3. There is a high value of systematically approaching cost analyses of educational reforms. It is clearly important to capture accurately the relevant financial data, to account clearly for all of the relevant costs, and to understand the benefits of these reforms in financial terms. However, analysts should not limit their scope to the elements that are financial, or even those that are quantifiable. Instead, a comprehensive cost analysis should also assess both the organizational program costs and the potential organizational benefits.
  • A more comprehensive approach for evaluating other educational programs is useful in evaluation programs that may have wide-ranging effects that cannot be easily quantified.
  • Particularly in institutions as complicated as schools, examining organizational issues fully is an important complement to a rigorous cost analysis.

Full Text: http://www.gse.harvard.edu/~ngt/PAR%20Costs%20and%20Benefits%20-%20January%202011.pdf

Research Design:
Qualitative and cost-analysis

Approximately 155 individuals from seven districts, including key union and district officials, members of the PAR Panel, current and former "consulting teachers," principals, superintendents, associate superintendents, and teacher union presidents.

Year data is from:


Data Collection and Analysis:
Conducted cost analysis of existing programs and used administrative and semi-structured interview data.


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