Ever wish your students were more motivated? If you’re like most of us, you have tried an array of rewards and punishments to motivate kids. There’s only one problem: it doesn’t work. At least it doesn't work well enough. People (yes, even students) aren’t motivated from the outside so rewards and punishments only work to a point. We are internally motivated. That’s why it's essential to engage and inspire students to be motivated to succeed in school (and life.)

If you’re ready to move beyond the reward/punishment model and embrace a whole new way to understand motivation, I encourage you to come back regularly. It’s time to challenge the status quo and create schools and classrooms based on what really motivates behavior.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Improving Education: Sometimes It's What You Don't Do

Education increasingly emphasizes what is easily quantifiable - like test scores - even if what’s being measured and analyzed might not represent what’s most important for kids to learn. With teachers focusing on ensuring that kids do well on high-stakes tests, I worry about those spontaneous productive tangents that never occur, the discussions that never take place, and the less measurable competencies that are pushed aside. 
Like it or not, I accept that we live in a test-driven educational universe. An article in The New York Times recently identified students in Massachusetts as highly successful in both math and science: “If Massachusetts were a country, its eighth graders would rank second in the world in science, behind only Singapore, according to Timss — the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, which surveys knowledge and skills of fourth and eighth graders around the world. (The most recent version, in 2011, tested more than 600,000 students in 63 nations.) 
“Massachusetts eighth graders also did well in mathematics, coming in sixth, behind Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan. The United States as a whole came in 10th in science and 9th in math, with scores that were above the international average.”
Impressive test results, to be sure. But what I found most interesting in the article was the following passage: “Also noteworthy was what the reforms did not include. Parents were not offered vouchers for private schools. The state did not close poorly performing schools, eliminate tenure for teachers or add merit pay. The reforms did allow for some charter schools, but not many.”
I encourage you to take a moment and read that passage again. Those who clamor for better schools frequently argue that parents should be given vouchers - highlighting the always popular concept of “choice” - while failing to mention that vouchers contribute to the erosion of the public school system, a cornerstone of a democratic society. Massachusetts has demonstrated that we don’t need to dismantle public schools to improve education.
It’s not uncommon for poorly performing schools to be closed. Apparently some believe this somehow addresses underlying problems. I guess if “The X School” closes its doors, there will be one fewer school on next year’s list of poorly performing schools. Such a superficial approach is akin to believing you are healthy if you choose to ignore symptoms of illness.
Finally, there are the hot-button issues of tenure and merit pay. In an environment increasingly distrustful of organized labor, tenure is often portrayed as the scourge that has ruined public education. Instead of using tenure to protect incompetent teachers - the argument goes - schools should get rid of the deadwood and implement a system of merit pay to retain those teachers whose students do well on high-stakes testing. Of course, one problem with merit pay is that it promotes competition among teachers (or schools...or districts....or states). Competition compromises collaboration. If we want effective strategies to be implemented, shared, and replicated, we need to nurture a culture of professional collaboration. 
If you support high-stakes testing and believe the results of Timss, schools in Massachusetts are doing a great job. I suggest it’s not just because of what’s being done; it’s also because of what is not being done.


As always, if you enjoyed this and found it useful, please send the link to your friends. Thanks.

Bob Sullo

For information about books by Bob Sullo and to schedule a keynote, workshop, or series for your school, agency, or parent group visit www.internalmotivation.net


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