For the Record: Teacher Incentive Fund Grant

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Disagreement with the Chicago Teachers Union over merit pay has apparently scuttled a $34 million federal merit pay grant that CPS won in fall 2010. Even so, the district’s recently released grant application provides a blueprint of CPS’ plans to use merit pay to address ongoing issues with teacher quality and retention.

The district’s plans were developed in collaboration with former CTU President Marilyn Stewart and were conceptualized as a 25-school pilot program that would later be rolled out district-wide. But the current union leadership is adamantly opposed to merit pay, a major sticking point in contract negotiations.

“A comprehensive, fair, and objective evaluation system that supports teachers and facilitates growth in their practice is critical to CPS,” spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler wrote in an email. “As such, even though we have lost the opportunity to utilize the Teacher Incentive Fund for this purpose, we will continue to resource this important work.”

 Catalyst Chicago first requested information about the grant application under the Freedom of Information Act in July 2010, when the grant was submitted; September 2010; September 2011; and April 2012. CPS released a copy this month.

The application notes that problems with teacher quality and retention disproportionately affect schools with the poorest students. For instance, 43 percent of teachers in middle-class schools have middle-grades content area certification, compared to just 28 percent in high-poverty schools; and teachers in high-poverty schools have, on average, two fewer years of teaching experience than teachers in middle-class schools.

CPS planned to target schools with at least 75 percent low-income students, teacher turnover between 15 and 30 percent, and at least 25 percent of teachers without the middle-grades content endorsements the district’s policy calls for. In a likely move to win more buy-in from teachers, targeted schools were those that had not been probation for consecutive years–assuring teachers the school wouldn’t be selected for closure or turnaround.

The district would have asked at least 75 percent of teachers to sign on before the school could participate.

Plans included:

  • $3,000 signing bonuses for teachers in hard-to-staff areas like math, science, bilingual education and special education, particularly in high-need schools.
  • Performance bonuses based on new teacher evaluation categories – Excellent, Proficient, Needs Improvement, and Unsatisfactory–with a 10 to 15 percent bonus for an excellent rating down to 5 percent for a proficient rating.
  • Scrapping the six-lane pay scale that offers salary increases for obtaining a master’s degree (in any subject). Instead, there would be a three-lane scale – one for a bachelor’s degree, one for a master’s degree, and another for teachers with two master’s degrees or a doctorate. The degrees would only count if they are related to a teacher’s content area.
  • Giving step increases every 3 years instead of every year for the first 14 years. The steps would be tied to milestones like achieving tenure or meeting certain performance standards.
  • Instituting a formal career ladder with opportunities to become master educators – full-time teacher evaluators and coaches – or lead teachers who remain in the classroom.
  • Using the district’s new teacher observation tool to screen and evaluate student teachers.
  • Developing minimum hiring standards for teachers, communicating them to principals, and tracking hiring patterns to “analyze and improve principal hiring practices.”

Research has found that teacher merit pay has no impact on student achievement. A major study conducted by the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University found that merit pay does not affect student achievement. 

CPS in fact scrapped a previous program, funded by the same federal grant initiative, that Mathematica Policy Research found was ineffective in raising achievement or stemming teacher turnover.

Principal bonuses, selection

Principals are also included in the grant application, which calls for:

  • Performance bonuses between $6,000 and $20,500. The bonus portion of the plan has been picked up with private funding, which the district is using to offer principals bonuses of $5,000 to $20,000 per year. CPS will announce the bonus winners in late August once the results of state assessments are released. The Chicago Principals and Administrators Association has said it opposes principal merit pay.
  • Scrapping the current pay structure of four salary lanes based on a school’s size and eight yearly salarly increases. Instead, the district would be one lane with a higher salary than the current average and principals would receive two increases awarded at 4-year intervals.
  • Working with a search firm to create a tool that would help local school councils gauge principal candidates’ “fit” for jobs, “to ensure a better match between school environment and candidate experiences and skills,” according to the application.

An updated principal evaluation system is expected to be in place within the next few months, according to CPS.

Teacher Incentive Fund Grant Application