"The state also sets lower expectations for math, with 92 percent of Asian-American students and 86 percent of white students expected to perform at grade level by 2018, but only 74 percent of black students and 80 percent of Hispanic students."
To encounter such a racial mindset in this century is truly alarming. It may be that those who constructed this policy viewed these goals as attaining improvements on the part of all races, but the guiding principle should be equality in expectations. Students are not likely to produce at a level higher than that expected of them. This is a perfect example of what President Bush once referred to as "the soft bigotry of low expectations."
The importance of setting high expectations for all students is a central theme in Amanda Ripley’s book The Smartest Kids in the World: and How They Got That Way. She applies the term "tracking" to the many ways in which different expectations can be imposed on different classes of students. She uses her examination of school systems in Finland, South Korea, and Poland as a means of evaluating US educational methods.
Tracking at the highest level refers to the practice of testing high school students at or near graduation to determine who is qualified for upper level education at a college or university, and who should be vectored towards a more "vocational" form of study or training. Such systems are quite common and most seem to be successful. The idea is to provide as similar as possible an educational experience for all students up to the "tracking" point. Equality of opportunity is a desired goal.
It is common in the US to utilize tracking in such a way is to maximize inequality of educational opportunity by applying it at an early age.
As soon as one places a child in a track where they are deemed less capable than other students, this labeling can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Advanced students are given more challenging material and provided better teachers. Slower learners rarely catch up; nor are they expected to. The children in the lower levels realize that less is expected of them. This form of tracking can begin as early as the first grade.
Ripley discusses the experience Poland had in upgrading its educational system. In so doing, she provides an excellent example of the potential for harm in communicating diminished expectations.
In the late 1990s, Poland’s leaders feared that the lack of educational attainment would relegate their graduating students to low-wage-laborer status in the European Union. If they wanted a better outcome they would have to reform their educational system. In 1999, they began implementing a major series of reforms to inject more rigor into their system. One of the reforms would prove to be particularly relevant to our discussion.
PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) is a test administered to fifteen-year-old students around the world every three years. In 2000, the test was administered to about "a third of a million teenagers in forty-three countries." Poland, bravely, decided to participate even though their reformed system had just been initiated.
The timing allowed for an interesting comparison because the 2000 test would be taken by students educated in the old way, while those who would take the 2003 test would have experienced the reformed process. The lower-performing fifteen-year-olds in 2000 would have already been sent to the vocational track. All the students taking the test in 2003 would have remained on the same academic track.
The results in 2003 would be much better. What was surprising—and telling—was the change in the results for the students who would have been placed on the vocational track under the old system, but had escaped it thus far in the new.
Ripley includes an interesting discussion of all the changes in Poland’s approach. What we are interested in here is the effect of the extra year on the academic track for Poland’s lower-performing students.
Could this result be due to the reformed educational process being more effective at instructing the students who might be less academically capable, or could it be that the increased expectations for the fifteen-year-olds who were still on the same academic track as the high performers played a role? An experiment Poland performed a few years later shed some light.
"Something happened to kids once they got into the vocational schools with all the other vocational students and teachers. They seemed to lose their abilities, or maybe their drive, almost overnight."
The lesson from all this seems to be that once you let a student know that he/she is less capable than others and place them in a track where academic expectations are diminished, academic performance will also be diminished.