School & District Management

Private Funders to Cover Principal Merit Pay Plan

By Rebecca Harris, Sarah Karp & Catalyst Chicago — August 16, 2011 5 min read
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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard offered up more details Monday about their plans to hold principals to strict performance standards, award principals bonuses and work to create better principal preparation programs.

“No other school system in the entire country has a culture of accountability, from the corporate suite to the classroom,” Emanuel said.

The principal merit pay program will be paid for with private dollars. Five philanthropists, including board member Penny Pritzker, have already committed $5 million, and Emanuel says he plans to raise an additional $5 million.

That merit pay will be paid for by private dollars is key. The announcement took some attention away from the district’s budget deficit and the plan to fill it by rescinding contractually-promised raises for union workers and collecting more property taxes. It also helps advance Emanuel’s promise to recruit, support and retain high performing principals. Next week, he will hit his 100-day anniversary for being in office.

But Emanuel’s plans did not seem to have been vetted by principals and it might not be well-received. A report released Monday by the Illinois Education Research Council indicates that most principals oppose evaluating schools and teachers based on test scores.

Clarice Berry, president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, was miffed that officials invited her to stand up at the press conference without indicating merit pay or performance contracts would be announced. She says her members, who have had their pay frozen the past two years and have also had to take furlough days, oppose merit pay.

Criteria for Good Performance

Under the plan, principals would be eligible for $5,000 to $10,000 bonuses a year, at an estimated cost of up to $1.25 million a year citywide, if they exceeded the standards set in the district’s new performance contracts.

Merit pay has not been proven to drive performance, according to a number of studies, including one on Chicago’s pilot program for teachers and principals.

Emanuel said his principal merit pay program would be different. “It’s not one thing, that’s the difference,” he said. “There’s the training piece of it.”

Brizard added: “It includes ways of supporting principals who have been on the job for a few years. It allows principals to stay in the profession.”

And while Brizard and Emanuel emphasized that they want to support principals, they also will be measuring them on a long list of criteria. Officials unveiled a draft copy on Monday, but said it was just an example of what the performance contract could include.

Among criteria included in the draft: how well their teachers are doing moving students forward, how many students are on-track, the attendance of students and teachers, the number of student misconducts and whether students and parents feel engaged.

To receive a positive rating, gains in a given year would have to be at least 5 percent greater than their average gains over the last three years. Principals also could get a neutral rating or a negative one.

Currently, principals sign contracts with the local school council. Those contracts will stay as is; the principal performance contract will be an additional document that includes the guidelines principals must meet in order to receive bonuses.

Berry applauded the inclusion of indicators of school climate and culture, in addition to test scores. However, she said, the draft contract should not have been created without input from her organization.

Officials say the performance contract that is ultimately used in the district will be the product of discussions with the principals’ association and the Consortium on Chicago School Research.

Emanuel called the merit pay announcement “the first part of the Race to the Top for Chicago” and said that the district would soon implement merit pay for all of its teachers—presumably, after it negotiates its next contract with the Chicago Teachers Union. (The current contract expires in June 2012.)

“I did not want just teachers to be held accountable, or more importantly, rewarded for their good work,” Emanuel said.

Steve Tozer, director of the Urban Education Leadership program at UIC, applauded the move. “It’s moving from looser to tighter coupling” between programs and the district, he said.

He also noted that CPS is moving toward a systemic approach to mentoring and developing sitting principals, rather than what happened under former CEO Ron Huberman’s administration where “each area stands on its own.”

Principal Training Is Key

One key to making the merit pay work is getting better principals in place, said Emanuel and Brizard. To that end, the district will create the Chicago Leadership Collaborative.

Principal preparation programs will be chosen to be part of the collaborative. Those programs have to promise to offer substantial residency programs for principals. The number of spots in residency programs will increase from the 32 spots currently available in the district’s residency programs, to 100 aspiring principals a year.

Year-long residencies for aspiring principal candidates are currently seen as a gold standard in principal preparation programs. Such residencies are already offered by principal preparation programs run by Teach for America, the University of Illinois-Chicago Urban Education Leadership program, and New Leaders for New Schools.

Brizard touted the value of the residency, saying that when he was a principal he learned a lot on the job.

The Chicago Leadership Collaborative will be funded by a $10 million mix of private donations and CPS funds; officials did not say how much of each would be involved. CPS consultant Steven Gering will lead the effort, with the title Chief of Leadership Development.

Gering is a former principal and was deputy superintendent of Kansas City Schools through 2008. Since 2009, he has drawn a hefty consulting salary from CPS.

Last year, Gering was paid about $186,000 to coach chief area officers on the best way to evaluate principals, develop instructional leadership teams in schools and identify strong principal candidates.

Working with principal training programs is not new. CPS leaders have long worked with flagship principal preparation programs to align their curricula with what the district needs. What’s more, a state law signed about a year ago requires principal preparation programs to offer residencies and mandates that all principal preparation programs be offered in collaboration with school districts.

Jason Cascarino, interim CEO of the Chicago Public Education Fund, says that the new initiative is a continuation of work the district has already been doing.

“They are moving in the direction of investing a lot in principals, taking stock of what’s out there and what the gaps are,” Cascarino says. “But fundamentally what we haven’t figured out as a system is how to get more of these people.

Republished with permission from Catalyst Chicago. Copyright © 2011 Community Renewal Society.

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