High teacher expectations drive long-term student outcomes


When teachers have high expectations for students, those students do better in the long run – they are more likely to graduate from college, less likely to have teenage pregnancy, and less likely to receive public assistance as a child. than young adults.

That’s according to a new study released today by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank that promotes school choice and academic rigor. The study also found that high school teachers in charter or private schools are more likely than their counterparts in traditional public schools to expect their students to earn a college degree.

These findings are further evidence of the importance of teachers in students’ lives, and they also have implications for district policies regarding grading standards, homework, or even promotion from year to year. some of which have been softened during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“High expectations are a good thing,” said Seth Gershenson, professor of public policy at American University and author of the report. “Not only are they a good thing, charter schools have more of a good thing.”

Study examines schools in many sectors

The study analyzed nationally representative survey data from the 2002 Federal Longitudinal Study of Education and the 2009 Longitudinal High School Study, which track cohorts of 10th graders. over time. Every ELS student was assessed by at least two teachers who were asked, “How far do you expect this student to go?” »

There were more than 15,000 students in both surveys, although only about 500 were enrolled in a charter school, making charter estimates less precise than those of traditional public schools, a limitation of the study.

The study also controlled for school and student characteristics, including student race and gender, whether they receive special education services, family income, mother’s level of education, home language and standardized score in mathematics at the end of grade 9. This allowed the researchers to draw clearer comparisons between school districts, which tend to serve very different populations: private schools typically enroll students from higher-income families, while charters enroll fewer students. disabled than traditional public schools, for example.

Without accounting for these characteristics, the study found that teachers in traditional public high schools expected just under half of their students to earn a four-year college degree. Teachers in private schools expected about 80% of their students to obtain such degrees, and in charter schools there was a considerable difference between the beliefs of math and English teachers – 63% of chartered math teachers believed their students would graduate from college, compared to 53% of chartered English teachers.

After adjusting for student and school characteristics, the study found that private school’s advantage over traditional public schools fell by about a third, which Gershenson attributed to the removal of the disparity in household income between school districts. However, the gap between the expectations of teachers in charter schools and traditional public schools actually increased after these adjustments.

Charter and private school teachers were also more likely than traditional public school teachers to be overly optimistic about their students’ chances of success.

“In general, teachers are optimistic, in that they expect more students to graduate from college than they actually do,” Gershenson said. “It’s OK, it’s actually more than OK, it’s good. This optimism in the form of high expectations improves results.

And students in charter and private schools are more likely than their district counterparts to believe their teachers think all students can succeed, the study found.

Teacher expectations matter a lot, regardless of school type

Regardless of the school district, teacher expectations matter a lot, according to the study.

For example, having a math teacher who expects a student to graduate from college—instead of a teacher who thinks the student has no chance—seems to increase that student’s chances of completing. his university education by about 17 percentage points.

High teacher expectations also reduce students’ chances of having children before age 20 by about 3 to 6 percentage points and reduce their likelihood of receiving welfare at age 26 by about 5 percentage points. .

“It gets students to believe in themselves,” Gershenson said. Otherwise, they might think, “If a teacher thinks I can’t do it, he knows more than I do, so what’s the point of trying?”

“A small part of it might be not wanting to let the teacher down,” he said. “But I think a bigger part is just changing the mindset of students – engaging them in school and knowing and believing that if they get the job, they can thrive. ”

These results do not prove cause and effect since the students were not randomly assigned to teachers with high expectations. And they’re likely magnified because of the binary nature of the comparison – teachers who have no confidence that their student will graduate from college versus teachers who are absolutely certain their students will.

Even so, previous research by Gershenson and others has found similar results on the importance of teacher expectations. For example, a 2020 study by Gershenson found that college students do better on standardized end-of-year tests. when their teachers are difficult students.

But previous research has also found that white teachers tend to have lower expectations for students of color, an effect that may cause a “self-fulfilling prophecy.” Gershenson said that effect might have influenced the results of the new study slightly, because charter schools have more black teachers than traditional public schools.

Charter schools have a reputation for having a strict school culture

Some charter school chains have a long reputation for having a “no excuses” culture, which some educators and experts say can lead to overly harsh discipline. However, Gershenson said what the study measures isn’t necessarily tied to that kind of school culture.

“You can believe in student potential … without having a rigid uniform policy or a rigid attendance policy,” he said.

He argued that school district leaders should take steps to raise expectations of their staff, such as looking at this in the hiring process or building it into professional development or appraisals.

“The importance of high expectations is universal, and they will matter in just about any school, in any part of the country or the world,” Gershenson said.

The study comes just as students are working to regain academic ground that has been lost during the pandemic and districts are considering ways to support them.

Fordham analysts say that should cause districts to rethink the changes made at the height of the pandemic. Amber Northern, senior vice president of research, and David Griffith, associate director of research, wrote in an introduction that schools are lowering student expectations by relaxing grading policies or reducing the amount of homework assigned.

“If we are serious about getting our students back on track, we need to be even more serious about putting our expectations of them back,” they wrote. “Muttering the phrase ‘high expectations for all students’ is not enough.”

Still, Gershenson said he’s optimistic that teachers will keep their expectations high as schools continue to emerge from the pandemic.

“A lot of teachers are aware that high expectations are important, and hopefully COVID doesn’t cause them to lower their expectations in counterproductive ways,” he said.


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