Karen R. Zittleman, PhD
McGraw-Hill Higher Education
What Makes a School Effective?
Factor 5: High Expectations
Factor 5: High Expectations
The teachers were excited. A group of their students had received extraordinary scores on a test that predicted intellectual achievement during the coming year. Just as the teachers had expected, these children attained outstanding academic gains that year.
Now for the rest of the story: The teachers had been duped. The students identified as gifted had been selected at random. However, eight months later, these randomly selected children did show significantly greater gains in total IQ than did another group of children, the control group.
In their highly influential 1969 publication, Pygmalion in the Classroom, researchers Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson discussed this experiment and the power of teacher expectations in shaping student achievement. They popularized the term self-fulfilling prophecy and revealed that students may learn as much&#mdash;or as little—as teachers expect. Although methodological criticisms of the original Rosenthal and Jacobson study abound, those who re-port on effective schools say that there is now extensive evidence showing that high teacher expectations do, in fact, produce high student achievement, and low expectations produce low achievement.
Too often, teacher expectations have a negative impact. An inaccurate judgment about a student can he made because of error, unconscious prejudice, or stereotype. For example, good-looking, well-dressed students are frequently thought to be smarter than their less attractive peers. Often, male students are thought to be brighter in math, science, and technology, while girls are given the edge in language skills. Students of color are sometimes perceived as less capable or intelligent. A poor performance on a single standardized test (perhaps due to illness or an "off" day) can cause teachers to hold an inaccurate assessment of a student's ability for months and even years. Even a casual comment in the teachers' lounge can shape the expectations of other teachers.
When teachers hold low expectations for certain students, their treatment of these students often differs in unconscious and subtle ways. Typically, they offer such students
•Fewer opportunities to respond
•Less challenging work
•Fewer nonverbal signs (eye contact, smiles, positive regard)
In effective schools, teachers hold high expectations that students can learn, and they translate these expectations into teaching behaviors. They set objectives, work toward mastery of those objectives, spend more time on instruction, and actively monitor student progress. They are convinced that students can succeed.
Do high expectations work if students do not believe they exist? Probably not, and that is too often the case. While a majority of secondary school principals believe that their schools hold such expectations for their students, only 39 percent of teachers believe this to be true and even more discouraging, only one in four students believe their school holds high expectations for them. We need to do a better job of communicating these expectations to students, and making certain that these expectations truly challenge students.
And it is not only students who benefit from high expectations. In The Good High School, Sara Lawrence Lightfoot reported that when teachers hold high expectations for their own performance, the entire school benefits. At Brookline High School, "star" teachers were viewed as models to be emulated. Always striving for excellence, these teachers felt that no matter how well a class was taught, next time it could be taught better.