Why Do the Achievement Gaps Exist?
A leading scholar argues that teachers' perceptions, expectations, and behaviors probably do help to sustain, and perhaps even expand, the black-white test score gap. However, he believes that there are some ways that black students' performance can be unlinked from some harmful effects of low teacher expectations.
This reports some of the ideas and findings from the following source:
Ferguson, R. F. (1998). Teachers' perceptions and expectations and the black-white test score gap. In C. Jencks and M. Phillips (Eds.),The black-white test score gap (pp. 273-317). Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.
To see other reports that originated from this same citation, go to the bibliography.
Scholar Ronald Ferguson surveys a wide body of research on teacher expectations, perceptions, and behaviors with respect to white and black students. As he concludes:
"My bottom-line conclusion is that teachers' perceptions, expectations and behaviors probably do help to sustain, and perhaps even expand, the black-white test score gap." (p. 313)
If teachers have lower expectations for black students, and if these expectations reinforce or expand the differences between black and white student academic performance, what is to be done?
Ferguson notes that simply admonishing teachers to expect more of black students probably will not have much effect. Rather, he suggests two ways that this link between teacher expectations and black student performance might be broken:
Ferguson suggests that there may be some teaching methods that actually break the link between teacher expectations and black student performance. One method he discusses is called "responsive teaching."
What is responsive teaching? Ferguson says that instruction is responsive when it responds to the child's progress and when it is appropriately stimulating.It is a way of tailoring the teacher's responses and invitations to the child's own efforts to improve. Ferguson believes that when a teacher is responsive to a child's situation and efforts, then the teacher's expectations will probably have less of an effect on student performance.
Ferguson gives two examples of responsive teaching methods:
Ferguson talks about another effort—this one targeting a change in teacher expectations. The program is called Great Expectations. While Ferguson notes that this program has not been thoroughly evaluated in terms of its effectiveness, it does look promising.
The basic goal of the program is to change student and teacher expectations about the importance and effectiveness of learning in their lives. The program has a number of characteristics:
Although it began in Chicago, the Great Expectations program has been taken to other schools outside of Chicago. Ferguson says:
"The story of Great Expectations shows real people struggling, with some success, to change teaching practices—and in the process, teachers' expectations—for disadvantaged, mostly minority, children." (p. 304)
Ferguson thinks that when students' and teachers' expectations change about what is possible in terms of black students' academic progress, then what students actually achieve will change as well.
How do teacher perceptions, expectations and behaviors relate to the differences in academic achievement between white and black students?
What can be done to break the link between teacher expectations and student performance for black students?
Ferguson essentially carries out a detailed literature review. Ferguson draws on a wide range of research studies. His goal is to provide an overview of what is currently known regarding teacher perceptions, expectations, and behaviors and their relationship to black student academic performance.
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