Monday, September 15, 2008

What Motivates Higher Achievement

What motivates students to learn and excel academically? Or, more specifically for our concerns at the moment, what motivates African American students in or from impoverished environments to place a high value on education?
Conversations about young black students and their academic motivation will likely gain more and more attention with the increasing publicity and influence of Roland Fryer’s incentive programs. A couple of weeks ago, we mentioned his program in our post "Incentives and Progress?".

At the time, Fryer’s program was being introduced in Washington, D.C., after having been implemented in schools in New York and Texas. Well, now 20 Chicago Public Schools unveiled "
a financial incentive program" that "will allow more than 5,000 students to earn up to $4,000 each for achieving academic benchmarks."

At the root of these incentive programs are issues concerning what might motivate black students from struggling backgrounds to achieve higher academic heights.

But what is it that really motivates black students to attain higher academic achievement? And how do we know? We always hear anecdotal narratives about the exceptional African American student who came from nothing and achieved, but what about the macro or widespread view of academic motivation or lack thereof in the lives of struggling students?

We’ll keep writing and thinking on this subject and try to provide more insight. In the meantime, feel free to send us pertinent links to articles on the subject or let us know your thoughts.


Anonymous said...

Education is a fundamental ingredient for social change. Yet, the education system in this country (intentionally, institutionally, or both) reinforces existing inequalities—the children of the rich continue to get more education than the children of the poor; alternatively, white children continue to get more education than black children (since a significantly larger proportion of black children are poor than are white children).

I am closely monitoring (with excitement) Fryer’s demonstration projects, for it is rare that you see an intervention take a strengths-based perspective of low-income black students. His projects recognize that black students in low-income environments can learn, but are often faced with disincentives to do so. Therefore, he changes the structure by providing tangible rewards for educational achievement to this marginalized population. Whether or not Fryer’s chosen tools work (and I am confident they will), his adoption of this perspective will prove to be a move in the right direction.

Sula B.

Anonymous said...

Some good points, Sula B.

In particular, we'll certainly want to say more in the future about the extents to which black students in low-income environments are "often faced with disincentives." That point has frequently been lost in arguments for and against incentives.

Thanks for stopping by and commenting.