Thursday, November 13, 2014

Intrinsic Motivation in the classroom: Meeting standards while promoting learning

The role of Intrinsic Motivation (IM) Theory in teaching has been growing in education research. This is particularly important as a tool for education reform that goes beyond training teachers on how to improve teaching methods but also focuses on learning. IM, as a new learning resource, is student-centered and encourages new teaching methods yet still being mindful of standards. It is for that reason that IM is particularly important as a tool for education reform because it embraces a wide range of teaching methodologies and focuses on effective learning as a high quality transformative experience. IM, which has been largely viewed as a personal choice or purely individual choice, has great potential as a pedagogical tool both in P-12 and college classrooms as it moves away from external motivator (grades and tests) for student success and towards learning. Extensive research has shown that external motivators do not support high quality learning, curiosity, persistence, well-being, and confidence (Deci, Vallerand, Pellitier, & Ryan, 1991; Ryan & Golnick, 1986).

Enter IM in education, not only as a way to only engage potential teachers in the classroom, but also often leads to a more critical, integrated, analysis of the lasting implications of course material. In IM theory it is assumed that students want to learn and will do so if allowed to connect to content in ways that are personally relevant and meaningful. Although academic standards remain important, students are encouraged to make choices that align learning to personal interests and goals. Data from an intrinsic conversion course in it’s fourth iteration under the leadership of Education Researcher Dr. Judith Sunderman shows that IM fosters self-driven conditions in the classroom that promote competence, autonomy, relationships, and a sense of purpose among pre-service teachers. Sunderman (2014) has explained that pre-service teachers can learn standardized content in non-standardized format. Following research that suggests that certain conditions in the classroom can promote fulfillment of the needs for competence, autonomy, relationships, and purpose, IM seems to be an important point of intervention, a way to think about creating conditions that support student engagement, sustained interest, commitment, and optimum performance.

Having been involved with an IM course conversion, I have focused on changing my classroom and teaching methods to creatively center students learning experiences by making connections between the historical, statistical, and policy-based information that they learn and everyday teaching practices. Students are in given maximum freedom, while still setting parameters based on the state ad course requirements. This process has promotes students’ intrinsic motivation in their own learning but also as they prepare to teach in the future. While still meeting teaching standards, IM can help teachers effectively and efficiently use their limited time and create lasting learning outcomes based on different learning paces and styles. The process, which still in its infancy is exciting to consider alongside students as they research and learn about the current and potential future state of public education particularly with regards to funding and the pressures that emerge from meeting state standards. In my course, the pre-service teachers have made meaningful connections to their research as it pertains to their future classroom management. In the end, students focused on the direction of their study and on learning as opposed to grades. You can learn more about the iFoundry Intrinsic Motivation Project through publications featured here.

by Brenda Sanya

Brenda Nyandiko Sanya is a Ph.D. student at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Sanya holds a dual B.A. in Philosophy & Psychology, and an interdisciplinary M.A. in Gender and Cultural Studies. Broadly, her research explores education, race, gender, sexuality, citizenship, and immigration. She interrogates formal and informal structures (such as schooling and education) as spaces where citizenship performance and performativity are produced and reproduced, and circulated in and through global landscapes.

The Forum on the Future of Public Education strives to bring the best empirical evidence to policymakers and the public. The Forum draws on a network of premier scholars to create, interpret, and disseminate credible information on key questions facing P-20 education.


Deci, E. L., Koestner, R., & Ryan, R. M. (1999). A meta-analytic review of experiments examining the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 125(6), 627-668.

Deci, E. L., Vallerand, R. J., Pelletier, L. G., & Ryan, R. M. (1991). Motivation and education: Self-determination perspective. Educational Psychologist, 26(3&4), 325-346.

Ryan, R. M., & Grolnick, W. S. (1986). Origins and pawns in the classroom: Self-report and projective assessments of individual differences in children's perceptions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50(3), 550-558.

Sunderman, J. (2014). Executive Summary - Supercool School: Learning through Play for Teacher Education Majors. Intrinsic Motivation Pilot Summary & Findings. Unpublished.

The Problems of Standardizing an Individualized Education

This past summer, the U.S. Department of Education announced an overhaul to the evaluation metrics used to judge the effectiveness of special education programs for students with disabilities who receive services through an Individualized Education Program (IEP). In announcing the new accountability framework, dubbed Results-Driven Accountability (RDA), Secretary Arne Duncan repeated the oft-heard rhetoric behind other accountability-based policy shifts under his tenure, saying, “We know that when students with disabilities are held to high expectations and have access to the general curriculum in the regular classroom, they excel. We must be honest about student performance, so that we can give all students the supports and services they need to succeed.” Of course, “being honest” entails evaluations based on standardized test results, including state assessments and the NAEP.

The problem with this, according to many experts in the field of special education, is that standardized tests like the NAEP are horribly inaccurate measures of learning outcomes for students with disabilities and often produce more negative consequences than they seek to resolve. IEPs are developed based on a student’s individual developmental and skill level by a team composed of the student, parents, teachers, and special education service providers. They are developed after taking into account multiple perspectives and assessments tailored to the individual student. The student then spends the next year progressing towards goals crafted to develop her individual academic needs. To then judge the effectiveness of the academic program working towards meeting those needs through a test that takes none of the students individual needs into account, and is instead standardized and administered by grade level, makes absolutely no sense.

Supporters of standardized testing adopt the language of disability rights advocates in arguing that exempting students with disabilities from the same tests their peers are taking for no other reason than the student’s disability status is discriminatory. Testing proponents point to studies claiming that excluding students with disabilities from standardized testing has the effect of increasing overrepresentation as school staff push low-performing students into special education to shield their school from the negative consequences of test-based accountability (for examples of this body of research, see here, here, here, and here). These arguments, however, miss the point entirely. Testing advocates misappropriate research that is an indictment of test-based accountability to serve their cause. The research cited above does not conclude that excluding students with disabilities is unjust, but rather that test-based accountability schemes create perverse incentives to further marginalize students who do not perform well on tests. There is no evidence this marginalization of low-performing students will end by forcing students with disabilities to take these tests and then judging their teachers based on the results. Further, recent attempts to compel students with profound disabilities to take standardized tests exemplify how “disrespectful” the process can be.  

The pushback against RDA should not been seen as an argument against measuring learning outcomes for students with disabilities. Instead, the argument here is for individualized assessments tailored to the goals in a student’s IEP, which is something that a standardized test is incapable of doing. If the concern is improving the education of students with disabilities, then the focus should be placed on addressing teacher shortages that help create illegal caseload sizes in many states, making sure schools––especially charter schools––are providing a continuum of services, and improving professional development so more students have access to evidence based supports, amongst other urgent areas of need. However, to proceed in this way would be to admit there are at least some areas where standardized tests are inappropriate and ineffective, and many of the barriers to student learning have nothing to do with being held to “high standards” and access to a rigorous curriculum tied to state or federal assessments, as Secretary Duncan claims. Such an admission and reversal of policy can serve as a demonstration that the current administration sees improving the education for all students as more important than an unwavering adherence to neoliberal orthodoxy.

by Ian Scott

Ian Scott is a PhD student in the program on Education Policy and Social Outcomes. His research interests center on the impact of incentivist and market-based education reforms on special education programs and access to mental health services in schools. His work attempts to answer broader questions about how social perceptions of difference are legislated, problems of distributional politics, and the political economy of education.

The Forum on the Future of Public Education strives to bring the best empirical evidence to policymakers and the public. The Forum draws on a network of premier scholars to create, interpret, and disseminate credible information on key questions facing P-20 education.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Three Initial but Insufficient Steps to Transform the Chilean “Neoliberal Experiment” in Education

The Chilean educational system is experiencing a notorious process of discussion, both inside the country and also by international watchers. Spurred on by the 2011, 2012 and 2013 student movement, educational reform introduced by the new Michelle Bachelet administration has been placed on the front burner of public consciousness and focus in the country. At the heart of this reform is the need to transform the current status of the country, from the “neoliberal experiment” which has the highest level of segregation among the OCDE countries, to a more equal and just society. In many debates the current administration has made explicit its goal of making education a social right, just as students movements have demanded.

The reform has three main goals: 1) ending profit making in primary and secondary public education; 2) the elimination of copayments of tuition fees to enter schools that receive public subsidies and tax-based funds, which will imply that private subsidize schools will change to public schools; and, 3) the enforcement of bans on primary and secondary schools’ selection of students.

This reform has been approved by the first House of Representatives and now will be discussed in the Senate. It seems as an alternative model to the legacy of Pinochet’s Dictatorship (1973 – 1990), nevertheless, a series of neoliberal educational policies imposed during this regime has not yet being proposed for transformation, among them: the vouchers system that privatized the educational system, the educational management system by municipalities, and the national standardized/accountability learning outcome test (Education Quality Measurement System - Sistema de Medición de Calidad de la Educación, SIMCE).

Different political activist organizations and students federations, such as Alto al SIMCE, Nodo XXI, and Fech have shown that guaranteeing education as a social right will eventually lead to transform these specific policies. At stake is the direction that the country will take in regards to education and the values that the Chilean society will promote and defend. From the other side, a parent organization of private schools that receive public funding, with few adherents but with a lot of public attention and political articulation, have argued that this reform might lead to schools closing, and in articulation with conservative politicians and political organization have raised questions about the constitutionality of this reform, specifically in regards to the freedom of education principle stipulated in the current Constitution - written in 1980 during Pinochet’s Dictatorship.

Chile is starting to take a direction that challenges the current status quo imposed in the 1980s, far from contradicting the freedom of parents to choose the education for their children, as some observers have argued and conservative groups believe, is creating the conditions by which freedom is no longer considered a private good. Under the principle of equal dignity of all human beings, as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has established, we can see that the goals of current educational reform are the first three steps to improve and heal the current inequalities of the Chilean society. But to overcome the limits of Pinochet’s heritage, eventually we will have to discuss the best financial and management system of public education, a debate that should be connected with a discussion about the Constitution – specially in regards to what the right to education and freedom of education should mean.  

by Mauricio Pino Yancovic

Mauricio Pino Yancovic, is a Ph.D Student in the Educational Policy, Organization and Leadership Department - Global Studies in Education Division. MA in Ethnopsychology, was a professor of the Catholic University of Valparaíso in Chile, where he worked in teacher professional development programs and researched teachers transforming identity in the context of the new Chilean teacher evaluation and incentives system.

The Forum on the Future of Public Education strives to bring the best empirical evidence to policymakers and the public. The Forum draws on a network of premier scholars to create, interpret, and disseminate credible information on key questions facing P-20 education.