Monday, September 8, 2008

School Funding, Class Size, and the Earth's Rotational Velocity

Ah, money. It makes the world go ‘round. Or, at least it keeps it from winding down and coming to a screeching halt, especially if you view it through the organizational behavior lens of Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory. But, what does this have to do with school funding and class size, you ask? Well, potentially a lot if you take a look at how this theory addresses job satisfaction and motivation, and apply it to the ongoing challenges our Utah teachers face each year.

What Does Hygiene Have to do with Motivation?

If you are new to Herzberg, let me give you a quick primer on his work. Frederick Herzberg, a well-respected psychologist who eventually graced the halls of our own U of U as a professor of management, is known for his widely-applied Motivation-Hygiene Theory. In business and academic circles, his theory has the reputation for being able to nicely account for two aspects of motivation: satisfaction and dissatisfaction. For the purpose of looking at school funding and class size, I'll focus in this post on dissatisfaction.

Dissatisfaction is primarily the result of hygiene factors, which are sometimes also referred to as "maintenance" factors. Either way, these elements are simply the basic building blocks of an acceptable working condition. These particular factors have little effect on long-term satisfaction—they merely prevent dissatisfaction. The point is, Herzberg found that these factors must be met and sustained in a work environment before an employee can move on to real levels of work satisfaction, enjoyment, and performance.

Keeping Dissatisfaction at Bay or Sway

According to Herzberg and the results of his well-documented research, here are the factors that, if missing or inadequate, can lead to job dissatisfaction:

Pay and Benefits
Company Policy and Administration
Relationships with Co-workers
Physical Environment
Job Security

With regard to education, this list begs the very questions we ask ourselves during each legislative session. Even if we focus on just education funding and class size, this theory suggests imperative questions for which I want better legislative answers.

Last.....and First: Funding and Class Size

Over the past several years, I've been watching for legislative changes that will have real impact on local school funding and class size challenges. I'm still watching....and waiting. While appropriations for education have increased somewhat, Utah is still dead last in the nation for per pupil funding. Let me repeat that. We spend less on each of our students than every other state in the nation. In the 2006 fiscal year, Utah spent $5,437 per student. The highest-ranked state, New York, spent $14,884 per student, and the national average was $9,138. Even if we overlook the highest-ranking state, we are still only spending 60% of the national average on our students. To put it another way, we are not even close to the second-to-last state, Idaho, which spends $6,440 per student...a $1000 gap. In short, we are way behind.

To be fair, after nearly ten years of education funding decline, "the Legislature has increased state funding effort for public education in the most recent two state budgets", according to the Utah Foundation. It's the relative size of those increases that I wonder about...and the lingering, and sometimes widening, gap between Utah's education funding compared with the rest of the nation.

Now let's juxtaposition our per pupil spending numbers against Utah's class size. We have, as you might have guessed, the largest class sizes in the nation. Our student-to-teacher ratio is 22.6 which adds up to about seven more students per teacher than the national average. Not only at an intuitive level would this appear to be a problem, but most education experts agree that larger class size does directly translate into many challenges—both for the students and the teachers. Challenges ranging from lack of focus and on-task work, discipline problems, and only reaching superficial levels of instruction are routinely observed in larger class sizes.

Now, Back to Hygiene

Bringing us back full circle to the rotational velocity of the earth and Herzberg's hygiene factors, let's take a look at the theory again armed with the numbers above. Does money really make the world go 'round? It sure does help.

When we consider what it takes to attract and retain the best teachers, Herzberg's model is eye-opening. While it seems to state the obvious, it emphasizes that offering the basic building blocks of an acceptable work environment is only a starting point. With regard to education, I can see at least three factors on the list that are impacted by low funding and large class sizes: Pay/Benefits, Work Environment, and Status (and perhaps Company Policy and Administration). That's nearly half of the list and the odds of dissatisfaction, I think, speak for itself. In fact, years of real-world observation and motivation research indicates that all of the hygiene factors must continually be met in order to prevent dissatisfaction.

In my experience, Utahns collectively speak about education with fervent support and generally agree that education is one of the state's highest-held values. However, my experience also says "follow the money" to find the real, rather than stated, values. We see values translated into public policy every year and for a state that claims to value education, the policy...and the lagging behind. Let's do what it takes to retain the best teachers by meeting their basic needs, supporting them with policy, and then allowing them to teach with passion.

Kudos to legislators who have supported increased appropriations for public education....let's just see more of it.


Anonymous said...


Amen to your words! A very well-written piece.

The legislature brags about how they have increased funding over the past two years. Big whoop. Everything costs more now and running a school is no different. We're still stacking 'em deep and teaching 'em cheap. So why are lawmakers so proud of themselves? Must be an election year.

If Utah doesn't take care of its teachers they will leave. Trust me, I know.


Howard Headlee said...

I am afraid you may have missed the point. I took a class from Herzberg at the U and it was absolutely the greatest class I ever took. Herzberg’s premise was that the things that make you sad (hygienes) are entirely different than the things that make you happy (motivators). For example, if you don’t have food, you are sad, but even if you have a lot of the best food you are not necessarily happy you are simply no longer sad. And no matter how much food you eat, it will never make you happy, because the things that make you happy (motivators) are not the same things that make you sad (hygienes).
Therefore he suggested that we as humans do not operate on a single bi-polar continuum with happiness/satisfaction at one end and sadness/dissatisfaction at the other. His big point was that the opposite of sadness is simply NOT being sad and the opposite of happiness was simply NOT being happy. Therefore, as humans we operate on two parallel continua, 1. the happiness continuum which is driven by Motivators and 2. the sadness continuum driven by hygienes. Based on this he suggested that you can be happy and sad at the same time. He called this the “starving artist” syndrome. An artist loves what he does and can be very happy and successful(motivators) while at the very same time suffer from hunger, poor health, lack of shelter (hygiene deficiency.)
Herzberg actually heavily criticized those institutions that took your focus on hygienes . In fact, most all of our compensation systems today are entirely focused on hygienes and he contended that this has led to wide-scale depression. This depression was the result of the psychosis that results from people pursuing happiness/satisfaction by focusing on the management of hygienes rather than pursuing motivators. He called these people “pain avoiders”. If I can just keep my job, and not get sick or get a bigger house, or make more money ….. I would be happy. No you won't – you just won’t be as sad!
Of course neither the starving artists nor the pain avoiders are the ideal. The ideal is to minimize dissatisfaction created by hygiene deficiencies, while at the same time aggressively pursuing satisfaction by identifying and pursuing your true motivators. Unfortunately, much of America as well as many in our public education system are obsessed with hygienes. Your proposition that we cannot pursue satisfaction until our hygienes are satisfied is actually the very psychosis that Herzberg suggested.
I offer two pieces of evidence that support Herzberg’s theory as it relates to education that refutes your premise. First, look at other states. Many states have the same challenges we have despite the fact that they spend much more money per pupil. You will find there are proponents in every state that place funding (hygiene) as their top priority. Herzberg suggests that those who pursue satisfaction by focusing on hygienes suffer from a psychosis similar to any other addict. They build up a tolerance and need more and more of whatever they are pursuing to achieve the same result. The fact that other states spend a lot more and have the same lack of satisfactory results is a validation of Herzberg’s theory and a warning that we are looking in the wrong direction.
However, I concede that there is a certain level of hygienes that must be maintained in order to be able to pursue satisfaction along the motivator continuum. Afterall, a dead artist cannot enjoy satisfaction. This brings me to my second piece of evidence - my charter school . Our school proves that Utah is spending at least enough money to facilitate the pursuit of success along the motivator continuum. Charter schools operate with roughly the same amount of funding (hygienes) yet we have achieved tremendous success (satisfaction) among both students and teachers. We did this by focusing on the things that bring success (motivators) not obsessing with the things that cause failure (hygienes).
While I would never reject more money, it is important that we don’t obsess over money and buy into the false premise that if we just had more money, things would be alright. They won’t, other states have already proven that. If we fall prey to this mentality, we will likely be distracted from pursuing the motivators and making the structural changes that can and need to be made right now in order for teachers and students to succeed within our current level of funding. It can be done, my school is living proof, but only if we focus on the Motivators and refuse to be obsessed with the Hygienes.

joy said...

This is a very well written piece of work. The theory has been very well described. I found some interesting articles on