Friday, November 11, 2011

Chicago principals say no to Rahm's "merit pay" scheme

The mayor and his Broad Academy-trained CEO, J.C. Brizard, are trying to take a page from the  Broad  play book -- merit pay for principals.

But Rahm's divide-and-conquer strategies seem to be backfiring. I give him credit for one thing. He appears to have succeeded in doing what I thought couldn't be done -- uniting the city's teachers and principals against him and his top-down, corporate-style reform model.

First his attempted bribery of the city's elementary school teachers to g et them to abandon their union and surrender their own collective bargaining rights, was a dismal failure. Only 13 out of some 470 schools took the longer-school-day bait and that was before the threat of legal action forced the mayor to back down.

Now, his attempt to pay principals one-time bonuses on the basis of student test scores and their willingness to fire teachers, has been rejected, loudly and clearly by the Chicago Principals Assoc. Apart from the basic unfairness of such a plan, the sources of its funding are problematic. Like many of Rahm's reform schemes, this one is to be funded by private donations from a group of the mayor's wealthy pals, for whom the few million in pay bonuses is like tip-money that can be withdrawn or denied on a whim.

Another problem with test-based merit-pay is its tendency to widen racial-pay gaps. A recent report from the U.S. Dept. of Education's Office for Civil Rights has already shown a growing racial salary-gap between educators teaching in so-called "higher-minority" schools. Bonus-pay schemes like this one can only widen the gap.
“Many principals are uncomfortable with a bonus structure only given to them, when raising student achievement is a team effort,” says Principals Assoc. prez Clarice Berry
She says, there's no research to support merit pay, and she's absolutely right. Previous attempts in Chicago, under Arne Duncan, failed miserably and were scrapped by his successor, Ron Huberman. New York's $75 million merit pay experiment not only failed to boost student scores, student achievement actually declined.

With Emanuel and Brizard in charge of the schools, all pretense of research-based reform has been dropped in favor of the mayor's budget-slashing, union-busting, political agenda.

1 comment:

  1. Agree strongly.

    Like all strong extrinsic controls, test score pay creates conditions under which the markers of quality, even if they do improve, have become disconnected from quality.

    See also multiple failures of test score pay in Florida over the decades, the $300 million dollar failure in Texas, the recent and researched failure in Nashville, and Perry, Engbers & Jun 2009, who analyze decades of research on performance pay, and why it doesn't work in complex professions such as teaching.

    However, it is crucial for opponents of test score pay to stop using the term "merit" in connection with "pay", because simply repeating that term reinforces that conceptual frame, and that positive-sounding frame is part of the marketing effort for this bad idea. Don't give the ideas we oppose free marketing help: let's call it test-score pay, or basing pay on low-level tests.


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