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Rahm Emanuel: $5 million for Chicago school principals’ merit pay

Mayor Rahm Emanuel talks about 2012 Budget Projections during City Hall Press Conference Friday July 29 2011. | John H.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel talks about 2012 Budget Projections during City Hall Press Conference, Friday, July 29, 2011. | John H. White~Sun-Times.

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Updated: October 19, 2011 3:31AM

Four philanthropists are ponying up $5 million total to bankroll merit pay for Chicago Public School principals as part of a program that will be unique in the nation and eventually expand to teacher merit pay, Mayor Rahm Emanuel revealed Monday.

The announcement blind-sided Chicago Principals Association president Clarice Berry, who was not given advance notice of the plan, and won outright rejection from Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis. Both pointed to research — and past Chicago experience — indicating merit pay in education hasn’t proven effective.

However, Emanuel said his principal merit pay program will be unique in that it will include training principals to a set of expectations outlined in a new “principal performance contract’’ that is still being drafted.

“One of the things that we’ve learned from the failure of others is you just can’t kind of throw performance pay out there [as] a Hail-Mary pass,’’ the mayor said at a news conference at Melody School in West Garfield Park.

His program will be a comprehensive, integrated approach — “the first of its kind anywhere in the country” — that doesn’t just rely on “‘You’ll get a bonus.’ It relies on objective standards, measured, re-training and training, and the performance is tied to exceeding those objective goals,’’ Emanuel said. A new Chicago Leadership Collaborative will oversee the project.

Thus far, four wealthy Chicago families — all of them major contributors to Emanuel and prime education-reform movers — have agreed to contribute a total $5 million over four years — or $1.25 million a year — to the principal merit pay pool, Emanuel said.

Venture capitalist Bruce Rauner and his wife, Diana, contributed $2 million to the pot. Rauner encouraged Stand for Children to come to Illinois, where it pushed through a new school reform bill that makes it more difficult for Chicago teachers to strike and allows CPS to unilaterally impose a longer school day and year.

Putting in $1 million each were Groupon co-founder and executive chairman Eric Lefkofsky and his wife, Liz; Chicago School Board member Penny Pritzker and her husband, Chicago Park Board President Bryan Traubert; and Paul Finnegan, co-founder of Madison Dearborn Partners, and his wife, Mary.

Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard said he expected bonuses to reach between $5,000 and $10,000 per principal.

With half of CPS principals expected to be replaced in the next five years, principal effectiveness is critical to the success of the CPS system, Emanuel said. The mayor touted principal and teacher merit pay during his campaign and said Monday he intended to implement both, with principal merit pay starting this coming school year. Asked how he would pay for teacher merit pay in cash-strapped times when teachers are being denied promised raises, Emanuel hinted that donors could provide the financial lifeblood.

“This is not where I’m stopping. This is dedicated resources towards the principals. There’s an ability to do other things, which I will be doing towards education through the philanthropic community. I’ll be working on that,’’ Emanuel said.

CPS officials said they planned to flush out a draft principal performance contract with Berry over the next month. A draft displayed on posters but not provided to the media proposed judging principals on not only test scores, but test gains compared to average national gains, school climate, student and teacher attendance, and even the number of effective teachers.

Although Brizard invited her to the news conference, Berry said “it was a shock’’ to see a draft contract for the first time there. She did not know in advance that principal merit pay was being discussed, she said, and “I expressed my disappointment that I was not previewed before this press conference.’’

“My membership in general is not in favor of’’ performance pay for principals, Berry said, but, on a positive note, she was glad to see more than test scores will be evaluated.

*However, Berry said, many studies indicate “money is not a motivator’’ for most educators. The Melody principal who hosted Monday’s news conference, Nancy Hanks, agreed, although she liked the offer of training in Emanuel’s plan.

The CTU’s Lewis was emphatically against the idea for teachers.

“The research is conclusive — merit pay does not work and can have troubling side effects — cheating, narrowing of curriculum and competition between teachers where collaboration is needed,’’ Lewis said in a news release.

“An investigation in Atlanta concluded that pressure to meet testing targets led to widespread cheating in 44 schools,’’ Lewis said. “Chicago and our students deserve better.’’

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