World Trust

Great Expectations: Race, Ethnicity, and Education

Posted by Adwoa Gyimah-Brempong on October 30, 2014

The lagging American school system has been the topic of fretful thinkpieces for years. In order to pull Teacherahead, so the story goes, we must test more often, drill more often, get to the root of why our students are underperforming.

New research shows that teachers often have lower expectations of black and Latino students – and that students respond to the expectations placed upon them. The study, aptly named The Pygmalion Effect, suggests that addressing unconscious bias in teacher expectations had positive outcomes on student performance.

One implication of this is that students have reserves of resilience and talent which are going untapped. This may be because we’re not testing them on the right things. E3: Education, Excellent & Equity, is an organization working toward recognizing the very real skills that make up cultural resiliency.

Its founder, Juan Carlos Arauz, says that often, “students that are deemed unsuccessful, are busy navigating systems required for their survival. Many of these students exhibit competencies that can be translated directly into 21st century job skills.”

What does he mean here? For example, living with multiple generations in the home is a lifelong series of lessons in adaptability and agility, cross-cultural communication, and teamwork. These are all highly coveted skills for the workplace of tomorrow, and they can be missed when students are judged solely by their standardized test scores or the color of their skin.

World Trust recently partnered with E3 to create a diversity training resource. “Unconscious bias is at play here. These students don’t fit into the mold of what a good student is. A first step is for educators and employers to shift their perspectives on these kids and see the assets they possess,” says World Trust Education Manager Dia Penning.

World Trust's  Racial Equity Learning Module Shifting Perspectives in Education offers educators and administrators tools to do just that, encouraging them to consider the way that things like cultural differences or structural disadvantages may inform a student’s learning process. And when schools are able to shift those perspectives, they tend to get results.

Oakland International High School caters to newcomer students, all of whom are English language learners and nearly all of whom qualify for free or reduced lunch. One program based at the school, Soccer Without Borders, combines sport and teamwork with rigorous academic expectations – and boasts a 95% graduation rate for its students. This is compared to 63% district-wide, and even lower numbers for immigrant and refugee children enrolled at other schools.

By shifting our view on our most vulnerable students, seeing their strengths and expecting excellence from them: we are empowering them, and our communities, to be a powerful force for change.

To learn more about Beyond Our Wildest Dreams: Racial Equity Learning modules, please click here

Download "Addressing Unconscious Bias" from World Trust

Topics: K-12, Resources for Facilitators & Educators, Dia Penning, Racial Equity Learning