10/23/2012

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Do our students care about higher standards? A recent working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, co-authored by Steven Levitt (of Freakonomics) reports on a series of studies involving some 7,000 students in the Chicago area to see whether incentives—such as cold, hard cash—could entice students to perform better on tests. Researchers told students immediately prior to taking a standardized test (such as those used to evaluate school performance) that if they did well on these tests, they would receive an award. Over the course of the experiments, the researchers tweaked the conditions, for example, changing the dollar amounts (from $10 to $20), changing the rewards (from trophies to cash), and altering the payout schedule from immediately after the test to 30 days later. In some cases, they provided students with the cash or trophy prior to the test and told them they would keep it if they did well or return it if they did poorly. In general, the bribes worked: students who received awards performed at significantly higher levels (about 5–6 months more of learning) on the tests than those who did not (see p. 14 of the report). Other intriguing nuances emerged as well. For example, non-monetary rewards, such as trophies, worked for younger students, but not older ones. Delaying payments consistently diminished the benefits of the rewards. And students were far more motivated by the threat of loss—getting a reward in advance which could be taken away for poor performance—than anticipation of a future reward. Perhaps the most interesting finding of...
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Generations of Principals Lead Change Differently The Soviets launch Sputnik, President John F. Kennedy is assassinated, OPEC enacts an oil embargo, the Challenger Shuttle explodes, or the World Trade Center falls—these events and others help to define generations. Because a generation has a shared memory of important events, it also shares similar assumptions about what matters based on their formative experiences (Raines, 1997; Kunreuther, 2008). Therefore, generations can influence people’s perspectives and behaviors. School leaders may not be aware of their generation’s effect on the way they lead change. But awareness of these influences can help principals use reflective practice, consider their effectiveness as a leader, and adopt new behaviors. These changes can improve overall school organization and increase the efficacy of leaders as they become more aware of their influence. For instance, Gen-X principals tend to use decisive, yet inclusive decision-making processes, which may help in leading change more effectively than other generations. I recently finished Leading Schools through a Generational Lens (Kuhn, 2012) that identifies these generational differences in leadership. Connecting my data to the 21 leadership responsibilities from McREL’s Balanced Leadership Profile® research, I found five major trends: A significant gap exists between how principals and teachers perceive the same change. Principals tended to see the changes they led as 2nd order (i.e., a change that is significantly and fundamentally different) by a much larger margin than their teachers. This gap was significantly greater for Gen-X principals. The top and bottom five leadership responsibilities were similar across generations. Teachers rated the top five...

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