(White) Teachers Expect Less of Black and Latino Students
Often referred to as “The Pygmalian Effect,” a report published by the Center for American Progress has shown that teachers’ expectations of children directly correlate with their academic achievement. So, if a teacher thinks a student will perform poorly in school, they are more likely to meet that expectation.
According to the findings, “Secondary teachers predicted that high-poverty students were 53 percent less likely to earn a college diploma than their more affluent peers. They also believed that African-American students were 47 percent less likely to graduate from college than their white peers. Finally, they believed that Hispanic students were 42 percent less likely to earn a college diploma than their white peers.”
These findings are troubling for a number of reasons.
First, what does it say about our school system when teachers don’t actually believe in the children they’re instructing? Shouldn’t the baseline expectation of our nation’s teachers be that they think our black and brown children are teachable? The report went on to say that these findings could simply be reflecting a mirrored effect wherein students of color don’t perform as well so, in response, teachers don’t expect them to. But, whether this is mirroring or not, it reflects a sentiment in the American school system that these students are inherently different from their white peers and not in a good way.
Second, our schools are not immune from prejudice. Like every institution in the US, prejudice and bias against black and Latino Americans seems inescapable. Most teachers are white but most students of minorities. The differing racial demographics in the classroom seem inherently linked to how those teachers (mis)recognize their students. This could be a case for increased racial diversity in teaching ranks across the country but, I think, it’s a little deeper than that.
Finally, our schools are failing our students. Not only are they failing them, teachers themselves have internalized the failure. Our decentralized, poorly funded education system is in dire need of federal overhaul. Yet, no real reform has happened. It has been terrible for so long that few of us expect it to get better. Maybe our expectations are predictive too.
The truth is: we have to have high expectations of our children. We have to emphasize how important education is in long-term achievement. When my high school Calculus teacher told me I would never go to college and that I was wasting his time, it didn’t make a difference to me. Why? Because my mother and my community poured into me before he had a chance to impact my thoughts about myself.
Beyond that, we have to expect more of teachers and schools. We have to hold teachers accountable when our kids aren’t progressing at the rate we think they should. If we set the tone, teachers’ personal opinions of our kids won’t matter.
Now, this doesn’t mean teachers are off the hook here. But, it does mean that we have to raise expectations outside of the classroom. We may not have control over the expectations from them but we certainly have control over the environment in which we rear our children.
Photo credit: Pixgood.com
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