Why Carrots and Sticks wont fix education

Being that science has become such a big focus in education today, one would assume that we would use its findings to help guide us into the educational future. But we seem to refuse to use the same logic we tell our students is so important.

While this is geared towards business the same things apply to education. Lets look at some of the points made in this TED talk;

The first point made in this talk turns education reform on its head; “rewards narrow our focus”. So if we are tying teacher raises to student test scores, where is our focus going? By focusing on test results we destroy creativity in our teachers, which in turn kills creativity in our students. We all should know that education is a complex organization and there are no clear set of rules when it comes to student learning. Because of this we must understand that there are also no simple solutions to reinventing an educational system that educates tens of millions of students. But for some reason our legislatures keep trying dangle carrots to move us forward on test scores and slap us with sticks when we don’t, never mind the fact that we work with a different student mindset almost every single day.

When Mr. Pink goes on to let us know that according to science incentives increase our performance on mechanical skills, but teaching and learning are not mechanical skills. Memorizing is a mechanical skill but as Einstein once said “education is not learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.” This is the candle problem, we all know what matches, candles, and tacks do but using them to do something beyond their basic capabilities requires thinking or cognitive skills. As stated in the talk these cognitive skills are diminished by carrots and sticks, but still we insist on using them. Not just state legislatures but educators as well.

In the talk Mr. Pink tells us that the London School of Economics found that “financial incentives can have a negative impact on overall performance.” But our state and national leaders want to use raises and financial incentives as the basis for increasing teacher/student performance. Mr. Pink makes the statement that what we need to do, what science tells us to do, is pay people fairly and adequately and give them Autonomy. Ask any college student if they would want to work in a field that compensated them adequately and give them Autonomy and I guarantee you would get overwhelming yes responses. Instead we have this high stakes, financially incentivized, environment and the response has been :


Drops of 53% in our most populace state, down over 10% nationally and down steeply in states that are leading the charge in “educational reform. ”


A final point to focus on here is the statement that about half of google’s new innovations are created during their 20% time. If that is the case, along with the other examples he gives, on top of the studies done by MIT and the London School of Economics I am astounded by the fact that education is one area paying the least attention to educational studies. It seem to me its time to get back to using science in solving the problems of the world.



  1. Adam,
    I love the Daniel Pink video. It is so motivating. It would be wonderful if more people in charge would watch it.

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