Study: Teachers Have Lower Expectations of Children From Underrepresented Groups

By Julissa Catalan


A newly published study by the Center for American Progress (CAP), titled The Power of the Pygmalion Effect: Expectations Have A Deep Influence on Student Performance, analyzes whether teachers’ expectations of Black and Latino students effects their academic performance.

The study found that kids whose teachers expected them to graduate were more likely to do so.

Research showed that teachers think a college degree to be 47 percent less likely for Black students compared to their white peers. Additionally, teachers also think graduating college is 53 percent less likely for low-income students as opposed to children from middle- to upper-class families.

Those same teachers also thought Latino students were 42 percent less likely to earn a degree.

CAP research points to the Pygmalion Effect—a self-fulfilling prophecy in which people are believed to perform better when greater expectations are placed on them.

Data collected from the National Center for Educational Statistics shows that white students are twice as likely to graduate from college as Black students.

The CAP study used research from the NCES’ Education Longitudinal Study—a study that monitored a group of students from 2002 to 2012.

Teachers were asked if they expected their 10th grade students to graduate from college or not, and the study later compared the results.

The study found that “teachers’ expectations and students’ college-going outcomes had a significant relationship, and teacher expectations were tremendously predictive of student college completion rates.”

Ulrich Boser, a Senior Research Fellow for CAP, told The Huffington Post :

“I expected to find something—we had seen other data that linked teacher expectations with just remaining enrolled in college. For us, what was surprising was that individuals [whose teachers had high expectations] were three times more likely to graduate from college.”

He added: “If you’re told you’re going to graduate from college, that could make you more likely to take certain actions.”

In terms of race, Boser noted that teachers and students from different backgrounds might misunderstand each other.

“Look at racial demographics,” said Boser. “Most of our teachers are white, but most students are of color. To not understand where people are coming from can lead to these types of issues.”

Similar results were found in a study conducted by the University of Virginia along with Rutgers University researchers. The study found that teacher’s expectations were a more accurate predictor of student’s progress—even more than the expectations of the student’s parents, or the student’s expectations of him- or herself.

“The United States needs to raise its expectations for students—as well as educators,” the CAP study concludes. “The Pygmalion Effect can go a long way toward helping our children succeed in college and in life.”

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