A thought on why broad education reform is lingering despite selective successes…
In looking at organizational behavior, there is one theory of motivation that may apply to the current scenario in regards to the willingness of teachers to embrace necessary change. Equity Theory provides a basis for thinking about motivation that goes something like this:
The equity theory of work motivation was developed in the 1960s by J. Stacy Adams (equity means “fairness”). Equity theory is based on the premise that an employee perceives the relationship between the outcomes — what the employee gets from a job and organization — and his or her inputs—what the employee contributes to the job and organization…. According to equity theory, however, it is not the objective level of outcomes and inputs that is important in determining work motivation. What is important to motivation is the way an employee perceives his or her outcome/input ratio compared to the outcome/input ratio of another person. (George & Jones, 2008)
What’s interesting about this is the “referent” or other person that is used as the comparison. In the last decade, there has been a movement to compare teachers at a professional level to other white collar careers, and rightfully so. Education is clearly a highly valued profession in the truest sense and many aspire to the profession out of desire to service and more intrinsic motivation.
But, when I talk to teachers, there is a terrible disconnect between the two factors described above. There is a huge demand for excellent inputs with little potential for commensurate outcomes that would ever be considered consistent with doctors or lawyers.
So, does that mean we have to raise pay exponentially and provide incentive based rewards? Nope – not necessarily! In fact, additional pay may not be a motivator if all other factors of work conditions remain the same. If children have increasing needs and if demands associated with the job continue to escalate, pay and other extrinsic incentives will have little impact on overcoming the significant disparity between needed work (and there’s lots of it) and the slim possibility of rewards in a system that never seems to be “fixed.”
At the core of expectancy theory is a need for people to believe that they can achieve the expected performance level. Have we given teachers any degree of belief that they can achieve the targeted performance? Many reports have been published on the problems with the American education system. Have many been published on the quality of the system? Do teachers feel like their goals can be achieved if they go from one evaluation to the next thinking they are doing the right thing only to find that their evaluations and performance demands change in any given year without additional possibility of remuneration?
In 1993, the Washington State Legislature enacted HB 1209 school reform. There were three steps:
- establish high standards and assessments
- provide districts with additional flexibility and resources
- hold districts and schools accountable for student achievement
Steps 1 and 3 have been accomplished, although accountability still seems a wavering target. But step 2 has not been fully addressed at either constitutional nor budget level. Thus, it is clear that a disconnect still exists between desired program change and a willingness to address the associated costs for resources and staff motivation towards these changes.
It’s easy to understand why changes in the profession of teaching are hard-fought in an era of increasing complacency. With nothing but criticism often greeting them at the doors of their classrooms, teachers are the most difficult group to address when considering motivational strategies. Setting standards is only one part of the puzzle. Giving teachers a sense that a new order is not only achievable, but desirable, is the real challenge of leaders and policy makers.
George, J., & Jones, G. R. (2008). Understanding and managing organizational behavior (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.