The View From Generation Y (continued)

Differentiating financial rewards based on performance was problematic for the teachers in Lortie’s study because of the uncertainty of teaching, and the external definitions of performance in terms of the most valued instructional and relational outcomes were untrustworthy (Lortie, 1975). Almost 40 years later, Gen Y teachers are showing signs that the teaching workforce may be becoming more open to differentiating pay based on the performance of their students. As Figures 2 and 3 indicate, Gen Y teachers seem to be more supportive than older teachers of the idea of differentiating pay based on how well their students perform, with more Gen Y teachers saying they believe tying rewards to student performance would be a “very” or “somewhat” effective way of improving teaching.

One Gen Y teacher who had the experience of receiving a bonus in Illinois said the following:

It’s exciting to say, “I’ve worked this hard and in addition to working so hard, and seeing my kids make gains and do well, we get a bonus.” It came around Christmastime. It was excellent. Honestly, the bonus is exciting. I wouldn’t say that I work harder because of the bonus. I think I work hard because I want to see my kids do well, but the bonus is exactly what it is.

This supports research from the corporate sector that indicated that Gen Y workers in general value being recognized for high-quality work (NAS Recruitment Communications, 2006).

Nevertheless, although members of Gen Y seem to be less resistant to performance pay than their older colleagues, seven in 10 Gen Y teachers believe it is not fair to attach pay to what students learn when so many factors that affect student learning are beyond their control. Thus, although it is theoretically possible to design measurements of teacher effectiveness that take into account nonteacher influences on student learning, as in value-added models, many teachers will need to be convinced that these are valid, reliable, and fair before they would be more open to basing performance measures on standardized test scores, even if they do control for outside factors that affect student growth over time. In the survey, we did not differentiate between snapshot achievement scores versus value-added scores. In the focus groups, we spoke only of “gains” in student achievement but not specifically about value-added measures.

Contrary to what many educator compensation reformers may hope, Gen Y teachers are skeptical about the ability of standardized tests to fairly assess their performance. Generation Xers and Baby Boomers are actually slightly more comfortable basing financial incentives on their students’ standardized test scores than their younger counterparts. Furthermore, as shown in Figure 4, 63 percent of Boomers as opposed to 50 percent of Gen Yers thought that student performance on district standardized tests was an excellent or good indicator of their success as teachers.

Interestingly, all but approximately 2 percent of teachers said that their students’ standardized subject matter test scores increased either “a lot” or “somewhat” as a result of their instruction, though Gen Y teachers were somewhat more circumspect, with only 38 percent saying that they rose a lot compared to 44 percent of Baby Boomers. This perspective may explain some of the hesitancy of Gen Y teachers.

In the focus groups, some Gen Y teachers expressed their doubt for the ability of test scores to reflect their effectiveness as a teacher. One elementary teacher from the District of Columbia, who was supportive of individual performance bonuses, said, “I don’t like basing anything just on test scores. I just think it’s just luck of the draw, and it [just represents students’ performance on] one day, too.” Others thought that teachers would go so far as to cheat or at least teach to the test, as this California focus group participant said, “Really, with ‘no child left untested,’ all of us have kind of started teaching a little bit more to the test. …[L]earning stops when you teach to a test because it becomes how much can I cram into their head, not how much are they understanding.” Other Gen Y teachers cited concerns such as not having enough time with their students to make an impact, especially in places with high student mobility; the stress testing causes new teachers; and the difficulty in making valid comparisons between teachers teaching special needs students when such students have different learning needs.

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