The Impact of Teachers' Expectations on Diverse Learners' Academic Outcomes

By Sirota, Elaine; Bailey, Lora | Childhood Education, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

The Impact of Teachers' Expectations on Diverse Learners' Academic Outcomes


Sirota, Elaine, Bailey, Lora, Childhood Education


Some research studies indicate that a content knowledge gap exists between minority and non-minority children, especially young children from poor families. One factor contributing to this problem may be that teachers expect minority children to learn subject matter at a slower rate than their counterparts. It has been found that teachers' attitudes indeed vary by gender, race, ethnicity, and native language of the learner (Washington, 1982, p. 60). Tettegah (1996) refers to this notion as the "cultural mismatch" between teacher and student. This mismatch has been closely tied to the' quality of education that a child is likely to receive as well as his opportunity for learning. This phenomenon might account for the learning gap that exists between minority and non-minority children. By the year 2020, culturally and linguistically diverse students will constitute approximately half of the public school population in the United States (Cho & DeCastro-Ambrosetti, 2005/06, p. 25). Given these statistics, one must ask, "How can we afford to fail over 50% of our nation's children?"

The research surrounding this issue indicates that both white and black teachers perceive white students more positively than they do minority students, including those who speak English as their second language (Ferguson, 1998a, 1998b; Gutman & Midgley, 2000; Holliday, 1985; Spitz, 1999; Washington, 1982). For example, teachers expect that Hispanic students will perform more poorly than white students on learning tasks across the curriculum (Jensen & Rosenfeld, 1974; McCombs & Gay, 2001; Wong, 1980). Rather than consider the linguistic differences that might account for initial learning deficits for Hispanic children, teachers choose to refer these children to special classes and thus classify them as learning disabled. Similarly, preservice teachers hold these same perceptions about students, depending on their race and ethnicity (Cho & DeCastro-Ambrosetti, 2005/2006; Deitz & Purkey, 1969; Tettegah, 1996).

Unfortunately, children's academic outcomes are strongly influenced by teachers' perceptions. Brown (2006) and Weinstein, Marshall, Sharp, and Botkin (1987) report that a significant correlation also exists between teachers' views of racially diverse children and how children feel about themselves. This finding is critical for both inservice and preservice teachers. These educators of young diverse children must know that regardless of whether their views are positive or negative, they are influencing students' learning outcomes and self-perceptions.

This article will explore teachers' perceptions of English language learners (ELLs) and racially diverse learners and present research-based methods proven to challenge teachers' notions and thereby decrease learning gaps that exist between minority and non-minority students. We will first investigate teachers' perceptions of black and white children's capacity to learn; then, we will examine teachers' views on other minority children; following will be an analysis of preservice teachers' views of minority students; and, finally, we will discuss the impact of teachers' perceptions on children's learning outcomes and self-perceptions.

Teachers' Perceptions of Black and White Children's Capacity To Learn

Black students' academic achievement, in particular, and consistently over time, has been poorer than that of white children. This is largely due to restricted learning opportunities, inequitable funding, segregation, and institutional racism (Holliday, 1985; Spitz, 1999). Holliday (1985) reports that black children's academic performance is affected by teachers' expectations, perceptions, behavioral styles, and the type and frequency of their interactions. In fact, it has been found that both black and white teachers perceive white students more positively and black students more negatively (Gutman & Midgley, 2000; Spitz, 1999; Washington, 1982). …

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