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The Mechanics
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Education Tue Aug 16 2011

The Business of Higher Education

Yesterday, Rahm Emanuel announced a plan to improve the Chicago Public School system, and it doesn't involve challenging students more.

But it does involve more of something: merit pay for principals.

The bonus money, which is estimated to run between $5,000-10,000 per principal, will be awarded depending on the principal's achievement of certain standards, such as student test scores.

It's unclear why Emanuel is proposing to implement a plan that, according to the above-linked Chicago News Cooperative article, has not only failed to produce noticeable improvements in New York, but also right here in Chicago.

Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, responded that "the research is conclusive — merit pay does not work and can have troubling side effects [like] cheating [and] narrowing of curriculum."

This comes at a time of tension between CTU and the Board of Education, which recently rejected a scheduled 4 percent raise for teachers.

Beyond what it means for Chicago, the merit pay proposal reflects the disturbing trend of the corporatization of higher education. In the 1970s, universities' disposable incomes shrank just as an increasing number of nontraditional students (such as veterans and women) reentered college. To solve the problem of meeting increased demand without the financial resources to hire the required number of professors, administrations began practices that continue today: hiring legions of low-paid, contingent faculty, increasing class sizes, and populating administrations with those from the corporate sector.

With little to no background or experience in teaching, these new, business-minded personnel introduced corporate models, focused on the financial bottom-line, into an environment that has traditionally aimed for higher ideals.

When an educational system is based around testing — be it of students, teachers, or principals — the quality of education decreases.

Instead of taking a page from Rick Perry's book, Emanuel should learn from Finland.

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Jeff W / August 17, 2011 8:36 AM

Thanks for sharing, Megan. I couldn't agree more with your sentiments of schools as corporations... Scary.

Kirstie / August 24, 2011 10:16 AM

Brizard also received a $50,000 raise after only a couple of months while there wasn't enough for teachers. I find that really interesting when we're in such a budget crisis. Brizard also doesn't have a great track record in the smaller district of Rochester, NY. I know because it's my home town. It's funny how one could not do so well with a small district and be rewarded with a huge district and a raise. Business model indeed.

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