Julie Schmidt

Julie A. Schmidt is superintendent of schools for Kildeer Countryside Community Consolidated School District 96 in Illinois. The district began its professional learning community journey 17 years ago, and all seven schools have been recognized as model PLCs.

Collective Merit Pay: Supporting Collaboration Over Competition

Kildeer Countryside Consolidated School District 96 was engaged in contract negotiations throughout the 2009–2010 school year. The economic climate coupled with increased accountability requirements contributed to a different landscape than in years past. While the conversations around the table related to economics were difficult, the hot-button topic was the proposal that the Board of Education put on the table regarding a performance-based compensation system, or merit pay.

The proposal focused on the opportunity for an entire school faculty to earn an additional 1.5%–2% on top of CPI (which was the base raise) if the student body hit three targets based on a triangulation of data. The three data points that would contribute to the eligibility for the established bonus included an NWEA (MAP) Measure of Growth, NWEA (MAP) Measure of Proficiency, and ISAT (State Assessment) Measure of Achievement. When the proposal gained no traction and the contract was eventually ratified without it, the Board of Education and then-superintendent Dr. Tom Many did not want to dismiss the concept.

In expecting its administrators to model for others, the superintendent proposed, and the Board supported, the introduction of the same performance-based compensation system for administrators. The underlying hope is that the participation in such a model by the administrators will help to ease high levels of anxiety regarding such a concept in the future for teachers. Currently the system is not tied to evaluation. The goal was to pilot a plan that emphasized maintaining high levels of student achievement, focused on student growth, and avoided individual competition.

The Board of Education wanted the individual allotment to be meaningful. They allocated $45,900 for the first year’s program. The maximum amount each eligible administrator can receive is $2,700, which translates to an additional 1.8%–3.8% depending on base salary. The bonus is a one-time payment that will be on the last paycheck in June and is noncumulative. It does not carry over to the next school year’s base.

Administrators eligible for the performance-based bonus include assistant superintendents, directors, coordinators, principals, and assistant principals who are not on retirement contracts. The targets were based on three years of data for all schools, and schools must reach or exceed the targets in math and reading for that year to be eligible for the bonus.

The elementary and middle school targets are as follows:

  • NWEA MAP Measure of Growth = 60% of students meet/exceed target
  • NWEA MAP Measure of Proficiency = 90% of students meet proficiency
  • ISAT (State Assessment) Measure of Achievement = 90% meet/exceed

At the kindergarten level, targets are as follows:

  • NWEA Measure of Growth = 60% (piloting at this level)
  • ISEL Measure of Proficiency = 80%
  • Harcourt Sight Words Measure of Achievement = 90%

Principals and assistant principals, the instructional leaders at the building level, are eligible for the bonus if their school reaches two or all three benchmarks. There is no bonus for only meeting one benchmark. The bonus structure is as follows:

  • Two of three successful benchmarks = $1,800 or 2/3 of the allotted bonus
  • Three of three successful benchmarks = $2,700 or the entire amount of the bonus

The targeted benchmarks are reviewed annually by the superintendent to make sure that they align with district goals and expectations per building.

District-level administrators are responsible to lead and support all schools in regard to student learning. They are eligible to receive the bonus if five or more of seven schools reach their targeted benchmarks. No bonus will be received if less than five schools meet the targeted benchmarks. The bonus structure is as follows:

  • Five of seven schools are successful in reaching their benchmarks = $900 or 1/3 of the individual allotted bonus
  • Six of seven schools are successful in reaching their benchmarks = $1,800 or 2/3 of the allotted individual bonus
  • All seven schools are successful in reaching their benchmarks = $2,700 or the entire amount of the individual allotted bonus

If schools only reach two of their three benchmarks for a given year, the school will count as being successful toward the administrators’ determination for the bonus pool. If a school only meets one target, that school will not count as being successful toward the district administrators’ eligibility.

The plan, as implemented this year, received 100% buy-in and support from district administrators. It serves to remind district-level leaders, no matter the role, that student learning is our mission and that all positions should support this mission. Next steps for the next year will be to differentiate targets based on individual school data. The high level of comfort and confidence with which leaders talk about the performance-based compensation bonus will, hopefully, lead to more open discussions throughout the system.



I believe this concept of collaborative merit pay could be the answer to school districts struggling with teacher collaboration in plc's. What better way to get all teacher's to buy into the concept, then to offer a school wide bonus? Rather than, pitting teachers against each other through merit pay, encourage all to collaborate for the betterment of the entire school. This would not only encourage content teams to collaborate, but also encourage more interdisciplinary teaching. If the school misses the merit bonus one year, they would have even more reason to collaborate the next year to discuss new teaching strategies and goals.

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Julie Schmidt

I wanted to respond to the comments posted above regarding my blog regarding our collective merit pay for administrators in Kildeer 96. The model currently is in place for administrators only. The concept was presented to the teacher's collective bargaining team during our last contract negotiations but it was rejected and the pool of money left on the table. The model was then adopted for administrators as a way to lessen the anxiety surrounding such a model. The "pool" of money was allocated from local funds by the school board. It in no way impacts base pay and there is not "consequence" per se for not meeting the targets. It is a true incentive. It was important for us to include growth data as this is a target that is extremely important to us. Offering the "bonus" as a collective community (everyone in the school community either gets it or doesn't) alleviates the "fairness" issue. However, I would contend that a model such as this focused on growth does not disadvantage teachers who teach at risk students. In fact, these students have the most potential for growth. The model as it currently stands includes a growth, proficiency, and achievement target and the "bonus" can be earned proportionately. I would be happy to answer any further questions!

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I like the idea of the math and ELA teachers working together to raise the level of the entire school, not just their individual classes. The extra planning and effort that the math and ELA teachers do deserves merit pay. This encourages sharing practices. I also like the idea that the administrators could receive merit pay. All too often they do not have target this area but rather leave it to the teachers.

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While the concept of Merit pay is largely rejected by teachers, I think that this approach is a little less threatening. I'm not sure how I feel about merit pay, myself. However, I definitely like the idea of collaborative merit pay better than individual. As a teacher in an inclusion classroom, I know that individual merit pay would be unfair if my class was held to the same standards as the "gifted cluster" class down the hall. On the flip side, this idea of collaborative merit pay would encourage teachers to work as a team and collaborate more about student learning. However, as with individual merit pay, I would worry about the incentive of higher pay causing teachers to want to "teach to the test" and put more emphasis on standardized testing rather than higher level learning and critical thinking skills.

I also had some of the same questions as Scott... would not reaching the target goals negatively affect base pay?

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I believe that this particular school district is using funds from state allocated education funds, and that the merit pay would be in addition to a base salary. I just recently moved from Raleigh, North Carolina, where I taught at a school that was in its second year of the Teacher Advancement Program (TAP). One of the key components of TAP is performance based compensation. Teachers can earn money (a bonus check after the end of the school year) for performance for up to three areas: school wide performance, classroom performance, and individual teacher performance (based on evaluations). Each factor is weighted, so even if your class does not perform well, you would still be awarded money if you exhibit good instructional practices.
However, as Special Education Teacher with a Resource classroom, across grade levels, I did not have my own "class"; my students were in the regular education classroom and were pulled-out for one or two periods a day. Because of this, I was not eligible to receive any money for classroom performance, no matter how well the students I served did on their end of year tests. I did not exactly see this as fair when I was the one providing all reading and math instruction to many of my students.
TAP is time-consuming, and it took a while to get used to the protocols and keeping track of all of the data. However, it was probably the most beneficial professional development I have ever been involved in. We were allotted a specific amount of time each week to meet in a PLC where we discussed data and strategies, identified areas of concern and ways to address those concerns. It was ongoing development as we focused on Language Arts through the entire school year, and it helped us provide consistent structure to all students throughout all grade levels. We were able to actually see progress and growth on a school wide level.

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I agree with collective merit pay bonus, as long as teachers are not penalized if their students do not perform to the standards and they still receive their base pay. I teach special education and work with children that have learning disabilities, so I agree with what Scott had to say about fairness of the merit. What about the teachers who teach low-level and special education classes compared to honors and AP? Also, why did the administrators receive the bonus instead of the teachers, I read the blog but just do not see the reason why the board did not pass the bonus for the teachers? I am not saying that administrators do not work, but the teachers are the ones that work with the kids!

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I think the idea has some merit. I definitely prefer a school appraoch to an individual approach. An individual approach is really not fair to teaches to teach lower perfroming kids as compared to teachers who have AP or honors kids at the high school level. My question is where does the extra money come from and does not making your target effect a teachers's base pay?

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