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CPS Principal Merit Pay Metrics Unveiled, Will Bonuses Improve Student Performance?

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday unveiled details of his newly proposed merit pay program for Chicago Public Schools principals.

The program will offer principals bonuses ranging from $5,000 to $20,000 for improving student test scores in key areas (both reading and math), narrowing achievement gaps and lowering their dropout rates, WBEZ reports. Chiefs of school networks will also be eligible for merit pay.

The mayor said in a statement announcing the new performance metrics that he expected the program would both increase accountability and student achievement. The bonuses have reportedly been funded through $5 million in private donations and are slated to be divvied out beginning in October of next year, after the current school year's performance is evaluated.

"I've made it clear that one of my top priorities is that every child in this city has access to a world-class education, so that they can compete and win in a global economy," Emanuel said. "We need empowered principals, quality teachers and involved parents, and all must be accountable for our students' success."

Principals will receive a $5,000 bonus for each of the four metrics they are challenged to meet. For elementary school teachers, those include their schools ranking in the 75th percentile or better in reading and math test scores on the ISAT, in the growth of students reaching college readiness benchmarks on the eighth grade EXPLORE exam and ranking in the 75th percentile or better in reading and math ISAT scores for more than half of the school's subgroups. Reading and math test scores will also be taken into account for high school principals, along with ACT scores and how successful they are at reducing dropout rates.

Not everyone is fond of the principal performance pay plan. Clarice Berry, head of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, criticized the plan as singling out principals and administrators while not giving teachers credit as part of a team that contributes to student performance.

"They feel like they do not produce stellar results by themselves," Berry told Catalyst Chicago. "It is a team effort."

She further noted, to WBEZ, that a merit pay pilot program, called the Chicago’s Teacher Advancement Project, has yet to produce "stellar results." She is doubtful that the bonus would be successful in meeting the objectives the mayor outlined.

Recent research lends credence to Berry's concerns. A study released this summer by the nonprofit research group RAND Corporation evaluated nearly 200 New York City public schools over three years and found teacher merit pay did not majorly impact student performance. As a result of the study, the city's Department of Education moved to disband the incentive program.

It's also yet to be seen how teachers will react to the news. The Chicago Board of Education this summer rescinded teachers' contractually-obligated four percent pay raises because they said that, because of its estimated $700 million budget deficit, the school system could not afford them. A week later, the board approved raises for several of the system's top executives. Speaking with MSNBC's Ed Schultz in October, Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis accused the mayor of being "very clearly anti-teacher" in the way his administration has overseen the city's public school system.

"It's kind of hard to have performance pay when you haven't bothered to negotiate with the people doing the work," Lewis told Schultz.

Others have questioned whether the complicated calculations required to compute which principals and administrators receive merit pay could invite mischief. Julie Woestehoff, executive director of Parents United for Responsible Education, told the Chicago Tribune the program could incentivize such rule-bending.

"I just think it's wrong to attach these kinds of data sets to monetary incentives," Woestehoff told the Tribune. "People will focus on manipulating data and not on teaching."

And as for how many schools' principals will qualify for the bonuses? CPS doesn't appear to be sure. A system spokeswoman told Catalyst they had not done a retroactive analysis to determine how the metrics stack up against previous performance.

A previous analysis of CPS principal salaries found their average annual salary to be $133,000.

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