A new book about motivation raises interesting questions about how we translate (and in my opinion often mis-translate) business concepts into educational policy.
The book is “Drive: the Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us,” by Dan Pink. Pink’s Twitter-length summary: Carrots and sticks are so last century. Drive says for 21st-century work we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery and purpose. By carrots and sticks, he means short-term punishments and rewards (e.g. cash bonuses) doled out in a tightly-controlled environment. Elaborating, he adds:
There is 40 years of science that says that for complex, conceptual, creative tasks—the sort of things that most white-collar workers are doing now that the more simple routine work can be offshore or automated—carrot and stick motivators don’t work. Or I should say they rarely work, and they often do harm. And this is not even close in the field of science.
Pink’s book is not about education. It is about business. But in this interview, he discusses the implications for school. His ideas interest me because, for more than a century, educators have been applying business models to schools. But it often seems to me that much is lost in translation.
Those in the education realm apply antiquated and discounted business models. Or they behave as if these models have been a silver bullet in the business realm when, in reality, they have worked imperfectly, or only under certain conditions.
Especially interesting is Pink’s take on performance pay for teachers. Before researching and writing his book, Pink supported the idea of teacher performance pay. His new take?
If you raise their base salaries and give them some autonomy, they’ll do that. If you also give either building principals or superintendents the ability to get rid of—and I am just estimating here—the 10% or 15% of teachers, like the 10% or 15% of any profession, who are duds, I think that is a simpler solution. It is not perfect, but it has far less collateral damage than tying [pay] to standardized test scores or doing these elaborate performance measurements.
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