Expectancy Theory and Black Pilot Success
As an educator, I came across the body of work called the expectancy theory of motivation. Expectancy theory “asserts that the amount of effort that people (students) are willing to expend on a task is the product of (a) the degree to which they expect to succeed at the task, and (b) the degree to which they value the task and value success on the task." (Green 2002: 990) (Chauncey, n.d.)
In my Arizona State University Sanford Inspire coursework for educators, I saw this theory shared in its simplest form as an equation: Motivation = the degree to which I expect to succeed X the value I place on achieving the task. In mathematical terms, my motivation is zero if either my expectation for success in the task is zero or the value I place on accomplishing the task is zero. (ASU Sanford Inspire Program, 2015)
The following excerpt from the ASU Sanford Inspire coursework breaks down the theory just a bit further:
“Here’s a quick summary of the expectancy-value theory. A student’s motivation can be influenced by previous experiences, belief in his ability, and how valuable he thinks the task or content is…These beliefs and mindsets are heavily influenced by previous experiences in school, content area, and task…There are specific elements that affect expectancy and value…Elements specific to expectancy are: ability, self-efficacy, and perceived required effort…Ability refers to academic and organization skills a student may or may not possess. Self-efficacy is a students’ belief that they can do well on a task. Perceived required effort is the amount of effort a student thinks they will have to expend in order to complete a task. Factors that affect value are: the teacher-student relationship, student engagement, and perceived benefit. Teacher-student relationships refer to the rapport and level of authentic caring the student and teacher have for one another…Self-efficacy is a students’ belief in his or her ability. This belief can vary from subject to subject… According to research, students who “believe that they have the ability to complete a task do better and have higher levels of motivation” (Wright, 2011).” (ASU Sanford Inspire Program, 2015)
I was so interested in this theory because I believe that several of its key components such as self-efficacy, instructor-student relationship, student engagement and perceived benefit are significant factors that the Air Force has overlooked in the search for understanding why African American pilots are not more successful in pilot training.
As it pertains to self-efficacy it is easy to see how the lack of success of black pilots in pilot training in the past six or so decades after the Tuskegee experiment, could influence the expectations for success for new black pilots. In other words, why would I be motivated to try so hard to become a black pilot if historically black pilots don’t do well in pilot training?
As I will show later, this low expectation for success can be held whether a person thinks they don’t have the ability to do well in pilot training or whether they believe that they cannot overcome other factors outside their control (racism, instructor bias, etc.) to become a pilot. In either case, the motivation of the student is impacted.
I believe the lack of career success for black pilots in the Air Force, relative to their non-minority peers, impacts motivation because it diminishes the perceived value of task accomplishment. The question becomes why would I want to push so hard to become a pilot if black pilots do not enjoy the same career success as their non-minority pilot counterparts?
In the “Air Force’s Black Ceiling” I shared the story about sitting in a very lively debate amongst Army generals along these same lines. They were debating whether to encourage newly commissioned Westpoint graduates to select combat arms or combat support careers. The generals who were advocating a combat support career said in effect why steer a new lieutenant into combat arms when the Army hasn’t shown that it will reward black combat arms officers with great career success? Further, they contended that combat support was an area where many black Army officers attained significant rank and left the Army with a marketable skill.
Translating this into an Air Force argument I could reiterate many of the things that I said in my first book. Namely that there has never been an African American Wing Commander of a premier fighter Wing in the Continental US. That the African American fighter pilots who have achieved the rank of four stars have been shuffled off to AETC and or away from commanding the Air Force’s premier four-star commands (TAC/ACC, USAFE). I could add to that list commanding PACAF, SAC and becoming the Air Force Chief of Staff.
The existence of this “black ceiling” is something that the Air Force has never calculated into its considerations for why black cadets might not be as successful in pilot training. Applying the expectancy theory of motivation yields the conclusion that there is less of a perceived career reward for the black pilot who has the aptitude and skills to become a fighter pilot. The theory says his motivation will be less even though his expectation for success, based on his ability/skills to become a pilot is high.
I saw what could be the evidence of these sentiments in a survey response from a 1997 USAFA grad who said, “Very few of my black classmates decided to even go to pilot training. So many opted for careers in acquisition or personnel.” (Survey Appendix A)
According to leading expectancy value theorist Allan Wigfield, “Expectancy-Value theory has been one of the most important views on the nature of achievement motivation…to characterize the theory very broadly...individuals expectancies for success and the value they have for succeeding are important determinants of their motivations to perform different achievement tasks.” (Wigfield, 1994)
I can hear the following question rumbling around in someone’s head: why do I have to motivate one group of people differently or more than another group to want to become a pilot? The answer that the theory so eloquently provides is because you promise the different groups different things.
For the non-minority group, entering pilot training you promise, the chance, of becoming a fighter pilot, flying an advanced jet and advancing to the highest levels of Air Force leadership. To the black pilot, you promise a greatly diminished chance of becoming a pilot, let alone a fighter pilot, and a guaranteed encounter with a “black ceiling” that no one in the Air Force’s 70+ year history has been able to break through.
Motivation, according to this theory, is more than just “want to”. We must understand that at the extreme end of the scale there can be no want to if the perceived possibility of attaining the reward is zero. Working backward from the extreme, we can see that motivation decreases proportionately as the perceived reward diminishes. This perception of a decreased reward could affect performance and thereby outcomes in pilot training and also explain part of the Air Force’s problem recruiting the best and brightest of the minority talent pool.
Self-Efficacy-I Can Do It “…One of the most important self-beliefs affecting motivation: self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is our belief about our personal competence or effectiveness in a given area. Bandura 1997 defines self-efficacy as “beliefs in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to produce given attainments”. In schools, we are particularly interested in self-efficacy for learning mathematics, writing, history, science, sports, and other subjects as well as for using learning strategies and for many other challenges that classrooms present. Self-efficacy and attributions affect each other. If success is attributed to internal or controllable causes such as ability or effort, then self-efficacy is enhanced. But if success is attributed to luck or to the intervention of others, then self-efficacy may not be strengthened. And efficacy affects attributions, too. People with a strong sense of self-efficacy for a given task (“I’m good at math”) tend to attribute their failures to lack of effort (“I should have double-checked my work”). But people with a low sense of self-efficacy (“I’m terrible at math”) tend to attribute their failures to lack of ability (“I’m just dumb”). So having a strong sense of self-efficacy for a certain task encourages controllable attributions, and controllable attributions increase self-efficacy…Whatever the label, most theorists agree that a sense of self-efficacy, control or self-determination is critical if people are to feel intrinsically motivated.” (Woolfolk, 10th Edition)
Self-efficacy is a belief in my abilities in a certain area. I can have high self-efficacy in one subject, say math and low self-efficacy in grammar. (ASU Sanford Inspire Program, 2015) In sports, I could have high self-efficacy at pertains to throwing a football and low self-efficacy as it pertains to hitting a baseball. It stands to reason, however, that if I considered myself a good athlete that I would be confident that I could get better at hitting a baseball with practice.
In the “Air Force’s Black Ceiling I asserted that the Tuskegee Airmen’s success in pilot training was bolstered by their prior participation in the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP) launched by President Franklin Roosevelt before World War II. I further asserted that today’s minority pilots, in fact, all pilots, could benefit from introductory flight training prior to undergraduate pilot training.
In 2003 the Air Force had a program called FAST that did this type of training for minority pilot candidates but chose not to fund it after the Air Force Small Business Office could no longer fund it.
Lets now link self-efficacy and pilot training. It is reasonable to assume that a student who had some flying hours or had obtained a pilot’s license, prior to pilot training would have more confidence in their ability to successfully complete pilot training than a student who had never been in the air.
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