Woman writing in notepad

External incentives not an answer to learning

I recently had the occasion to visit your fair city from out-of-state and happened upon The Progress’ Oct. 20 edition.

 I am a retired public school educator, though I remain active in advocacy efforts for effective change through my website, blogs, a soon to be launched podcast and a book on educational issues was published in 2018.

 It is not surprising I would be interested in an article titled “SUSD far exceeded state AzMERIT scores.”

The reported student test scores, while impressive, did not offer any surprises. The trends are pretty similar from state to state. 

However, I was struck by two quoted comments by the SUSD Superintendent, Dr. John Kriekard, in response to questions from members of the school board regarding a pattern of declining scores as children progress through the system, particularly during high school.

 Dr. Kriekard offered: “With incentives removed, some students are simply not motivated to perform well on the current tests.”

 He was also quoted as saying: “There are issues going on with kids that age that it’s national, so the question then is how do you overcome that?”

Like Dr. Kriekard, I draw on my experience as a secondary level principal for 18 years of my career to reach my conclusions. 

I agree the fundamental cause of declining scores among high school students is a lack of motivation. 

However, I don’t believe the source of the motivation decline is the elimination of incentives. 

Incentives, as a form of motivation, are external. 

Substantial research evidence suggests external forms of motivation do not support the type of high-quality learning that will have lasting consequences in shaping the interests and eventual futures of the kids in classrooms.

 Even grades (the most common external motivating tool used in schools) do not offer reliable evidence of meaningful and lasting learning. 

It may be that the Arizona’s decision to eliminate testing incentives was actually a step in the right direction.

Learning that is deep, resonate and lasting will best occur where the motivation to engage is internally driven.

 When students have opportunities to explore their curiosity and to apply their creativity in the exploration of topics they find interesting or are introduced in a way that captures their imagination and builds on their interests, the likelihood of the caliber of learning we aspire to for our children increases considerably. 

When students are intrinsically motivated, they are much more likely to find value in what they are doing. 

If you ask any three high school students this question, “How’s school?” two will respond with statements like: “It’s boring” or “I’m just not that interested” or “I don’t see how it connects with me.” 

Each of these comments is “kids speak” for a lack of perceived personal relevance and a lack of motivation to engage in an enterprise where they struggle to find value.

 However, if systems will then ask “What would make it better?” kids will have a lot to say, and they will offer some tangible concepts to build upon.

I open my book, The Education Kids Deserve, with a quote by Tony Wagner from his 2008 work titled The Global Achievement Gap:

“Teaching all students to think and be curious is much more than a technical problem for which educators, alone, are accountable. More professional development for teachers and better textbooks and tests, though necessary, are insufficient as solutions. The problem goes much deeper - to the very way we conceive of the purpose and experience of schooling and what we expect our high school graduates to know and be able to do.”

As systems engage with students in this level of meaningful inquiry, I’m confident there’s one thing they won’t suggest. They won’t say: “If only we had some external incentives.”

-Michael C. Johnson

Seniors could take ‘HIT’ on Medicare Advantage

Have you heard of something called the health insurance tax? If you’re a senior who has chosen a Medicare Advantage plan, the HIT tax could mean higher costs.

My wife and I are switching to Medicare Advantage because it allows us to keep our doctors and maintain access to quality coverage while reducing our out-of-pocket costs. This is a primary concern for us, as it is for other Arizona seniors who live on a fixed income.

Unfortunately, the HIT could mean less robust benefits, higher costs, and more damage coming down the pike if it continues to pile on — a serious problem for those on limited or fixed incomes. That’s why I was glad to see both of our Arizona senators co-sponsoring the Health Insurance Tax Relief Act of 2019 (S. 172).

This bill is one tangible step Congress can take to keep health care costs low for Arizona seniors and families.

- Bill Heckman