Low expectations result in cancerous achievement gap

Okoli, 15, and Green, 18, write for The Simpson Street Free Press, a local newspaper for Dane County teenagers.
Who first decided that being intelligent had a direct relation to being white?
That may seem like a harsh question. But it’s one many high-achieving minority students face every day. When a young minority student chooses to study after school, rather than play basketball, he or she is often ridiculed for “acting white.” This is just plain wrong. And it is an idea born of low expectations.
It’s time we admit the truth. Low expectations damage the chances for success for many kids — especially minority kids. And it’s something we need to guard against here in Dane County.
Many government-funded after-school programs lack substance. They focus on recreation rather than academic achievement. At their core, these programs try to keep students busy and off the streets. That’s OK. But it’s not helping them build a promising future.
Academic success, on the other hand, does. Academic support should be the top priority for after-school programs and in local neighborhood centers.
The same principle should apply in our schools. We don’t have the dollars anymore to spend on fluff. Schools should focus as much time as possible on core subjects. Those who are behind should spend the bulk of their time studying math, science, history, books, music and arts.
To proceed otherwise is to reinforce low expectations, which are a cancer. The achievement gap is just a symptom.
By the time many minority students reach high school, they are behind and unlikely to catch up. Students sense the low expectations. Some teachers stop talking to the kids they believe don’t have potential. The whole nasty reality just keeps repeating itself and discourages these students.
Not all will go to college. But all will benefit from regular exposure to books, science and writing. This means continued high expectations for all students in the critical high school years. It’s never, ever too late to benefit from education.
Brigadier General Marcia Anderson recently told The Simpson Street Press about a trip she took to Ethiopia. She and her colleagues handed out candy to school children until it was gone. Then Anderson gave them pens.
She said the kids were extremely grateful for their pens — much more so than they had been for the candy.
There’s an important and obvious message in this story. Anderson noticed quickly how important school was to these kids. They carried their textbooks so preciously.
These Ethiopian kids share the same dreams as our forefathers. It’s a dream shared by millions of immigrants from all over the world who came to the United States to find a better life.
This dream they believed so fiercely is often called the American dream. It’s a dream that promised equal opportunity and a chance to succeed.
Many kids today have lost sight of that dream. And that’s a shame, given how much our ancestors sacrificed so that we could have a shot at that dream.
Being a hard worker and attaining high goals is in the fabric of our American heritage. All the people who came to America came here with a dream of success. Those who were brought here in chains worked even harder to pursue the American dream.
Success does not come without hard work. And no one should ever be ridiculed for trying to attain an education.
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And of course, the new MMSD TAG Plan has — as one of its highest priorities — the early identification and ongoing support of high potential/high ability students of color and poverty —


4 thoughts on “Low expectations result in cancerous achievement gap”

  1. Let’s not forget that staff professional development is also part of the new plan, and until we change the mindset that talented and gifted students only come from certain socioeconomic groups or certain ethnic groups, these students will also suffer from the low expectations of their schools and teachers.

  2. May I take this opportunity to express my deep gratitude to Laurie Frost and Jeff Henriques for their tireless dedication to the education of our gifted students, each and every one of them.
    Thank you, Laurie and Jeff, and to others through the years, notably Janet Mertz. And it is worth mentioning that in addition to their optimistic and positive approach, a new superintendent and a new school board have also contributed to what is hopefully a new day in this district for our students, including TAG students.

  3. I forgot to add Jim Zellmer’s name to the list of those deserving our great thanks.
    Thank you for hosting this place, Jim, where we’ve been able to have civil and (usually rational) discourse on the various topics relative to how we better educate our community’s children.

  4. The mantra that has been going around for years if not decades is that schools set too low expectations for students. I disagree. I believe the schools set far too high expectations for students and families.
    The high expectations are that students will be able to learn the subjects without the material ever being taught!
    Emphasis on soft skills, as expressed in the MMSD Strategic Plan, instead the core educational goals dooms students to continued lack of educational achievement.
    Maybe the success of focusing MMSD on TAG kids will mean those kids will get an education, but all other kids will be left behind in the morass of touchy-feely.

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