Achievement Gap

Great Expectations: Why Students Need a Teacher Who Believes They Can Achieve

If you needed more proof that the belief gap is real, a study this week from the Center for American Progress should settle it: The Power of the Pygmalion Effect. The conclusion is teachers expect less of children of color and those living in poverty. That, in turn, impacts school success for the very students who desperately need all the advantages we can afford them. Building on previous research, the study’s authors say a teacher’s expectations of students has a powerfully predictive impact on student achievement and college success. Yet expectations are low before children even enter the classroom. The impact on outcomes is true even when accounting for demographics, and student effort and motivation. The relationship between classroom expectations and college completion rates is significant. This should give us pause when we hear the effete anti-reform rejoinder “poverty is the problem.” Overemphasizing the correlation between poverty and poor results in schools isn’t a good look for a modern teaching profession. It’s not as if teachers disagree. To the contrary, the report says they understand the importance of expecting more from students:
Teachers themselves also say high expectations are important for student achievement. According to the most recent data available—a 2009 MetLife survey with a nationally representative sample of more than 1,000 K-12 teachers—86 percent of teachers say that there is a strong relationship between having ‘high expectations for all students’ and students learning.
At the same time, “only 36 percent of teachers say that ‘all of their students’ can achieve academic success.” This is unfortunate because, according to research by Rutgers University psychologists, teachers’ low expectations can be “self-fulfilling prophecies.” Previous research published in the Journal of Educational Psychology has shown white teachers are less inclined to be critical of work poorly done by students of color. Another study done by researchers at the University of Georgia suggests boys are graded more harshly even when their test scores are the same as girls. Common Core State Standards may be a critical step toward closing many of the gaps in life that start during childhood. In a hopeful sign, educators implementing these standards are beginning to think highly of the Common Core. The Center for American Progress study concludes:
(The) Common Core State Standards are one of the most powerful ways to do so, and states and districts should continue to support them. In particular, education leaders need to pay attention to the standards’ implementation to ensure that they create higher expectations for students.
Students most affected by the belief gap are among the most marginalized classes of America. Efforts to raise standards is an effort to treat them fairly and improve their access to an equal society.
Chris Stewart
Chris Stewart is the Chief Executive Officer of brightbeam. He was named CEO in April 2019, after formerly serving as chief executive of Wayfinder Foundation. He is a lifelong activist and 20-year supporter of nonprofit and education-related causes. In the past, Stewart has served as the director of outreach and external affairs for Education Post, ...

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