Making High Expectations Universal

Teacher expectations can have long-term effects on children, spanning years after the initial teacher-student interaction. A study by Jennifer Alvidrez and Rhonda S. Weinstein found that there is a relationship between teacher expectations of preschoolers’ intelligence and later GPA. Although there are many factors that contribute to a child’s success, research suggests that teacher expectations reign supreme in determining student outcomes, such as future GPAs, educational attainment, and graduation rates.

The Center for American Progress (CAP) recently released a study, The Power of the Pygmalion Effect, highlighting the strong correlation between high teacher expectations for students and those students’ successful completion of college.  Utilizing data from the National Center for Education Statistics’ Education Longitudinal Study (ELS), CAP analyzes a nationally representative sample of 10th-grade students from 2002 through 2012. Accounting for other factors, like parent expectations and student academic effort, the study found that teacher expectations were the most predictive factor in college graduation rates for various demographics of students. Overall, 10th-grade students whose teachers had higher expectations were three times more likely to graduate from college than students whose teachers had lower expectations for them academically.

CAP also found that students enrolled in college preparation programs that provide them with more rigorous academic opportunities are more likely to graduate college and succeed academically. Contributing factors that support higher teacher expectations for all students are significant indicators of future college success. For instance, exposure to rigorous content in all classes, not only Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses, is necessary in raising student academic outcomes. Districts that choose to implement higher standards through targeted professional development can raise the rigor of material, across the board.

Despite the widespread acknowledgement from educators that high expectations for all students lead to higher levels of student achievement, teacher biases persist in determining which students will receive high expectations.  CAP cites a MetLife survey from 2009 that used a sample size of over 1,000 teachers.  The survey found that, although over 85 percent of teachers and principals believed that setting high expectations for students improved student outcomes, only 36 percent of teachers and 51 percent of principals believed that all of their students had the ability to succeed academically.  In congruence with the survey, the CAP study found that “secondary teachers have lower expectations for students of color and students from disadvantaged backgrounds.”  High school teachers predicted that high-poverty students were more than 50 percent less likely to graduate from college than their more affluent peers.

Additionally, they found the gaps were just as wide for minority students. CAP found that teachers believed that over 40 percent of African-American and Hispanic students were less likely to graduate from college than their white peers. Although they are unable to prove causation of teacher expectations for different demographics of students to the educational attainment of students, there is a significant correlation.  It is also noted that teachers require better cultural competency training during preparation to ensure they avoid setting lower expectations for students of color.

Overall, CAP makes the argument that the Common Core State Standards, if implemented properly by school leaders, are the “most powerful” way to raise student expectations through academic rigor, across courses. Currently in some states, Common Core has been implemented in order to universally raise classroom standards, which can potentially improve student educational attainment. Despite the once bipartisan support for Common Core from the National Governors Association, statewide implementation is becoming more and more difficult with increasing political pushback over these standards. Consequently, Common Core is a divisive issue in education; however, the need for greater teacher expectations for all students is undeniable.

Author:

Shayna Cook is a policy analyst with the Education Policy program at New America. She is a member of the Learning Technologies project. Cook researches and reports on innovation in family engagement, new technologies, and digital equity issues concerning children from birth through third grade.