The Fallacy of “High Expectations”


With high expectations and standards, one size does not fit all (and it never will).

Most schools in this country are failing. That’s the way No Child Left Behind is designed. Most schools will still be failing come 2014, by which time all students are supposed to be proficient in math and reading.

One hundred percent proficiency will never be achieved. That’s pretty much an accepted destiny. As long as students live in poverty, have disabilities, or immigrate without a chance to learn English or without formal schooling in their own country, students will forever be behind the eight ball and playing catch-up with their peers. None of these variables will ever change (although poverty is one that, perhaps, the powers that be will someday address), and so therefore the only thing that is 100 % certain about a rate of 100 % proficiency is that it ain’t happening.

Now the majority of the country is transitioning to the Common Core standards. In NYC, we have begun the implementation process by administering a series of math and ELA tasks that are aligned to the expectations of the Common Core.

While no doubt most educators agree on the need for high expectations, I think many of us part ways with the Common Core based on the fact that the “high expectations” promoted by the Common Core are – like NCLB – unrealistic for many students.

See, when a class of students enters a new grade, the expectation, based on the Common Core, is that each student has successfully met all the standards of the previous grade. How often does that happen? I haven’t seen that since I started teaching special ed, and I didn’t see it when I taught general ed, either.

Now, maybe that’s the case in some schools. These are the schools that have families with two involved and literate parents. The ones where homes are full of books, educational toys, and trips to museums. The ones where education is the top priority for the children.

Is that most schools in America? Many? Some? A handful?

It certainly isn’t all.

So Common Core continues to make the same assumptions that NCLB did – that home experiences are never an impediment to learning or demonstrating knowledge. This is a simplification of wildly complex social issues. That’s one concern I have.

The other concern is something I’ve written about before. Common Core assumes that every student should – and in turn, will – go to college. Who are we to say? I’m not sure whether the authors and defenders of the standards truly believe what they say when they say that the standards will make all students college and career-ready. Well, I imagine they do believe that. But do they truly believe that all students should – or must – attend college or have a career? I won’t rehash the points of a previous post (see below) here, but I will reignite my argument that not everyone is destined for college or a life as a scientist, engineer, or mathematician.

Taking these arguments into account, I ask, then, how do these standards account for the wildly diverse student population in this country? How do they establish high – AND realistic – expectations for students with disabilities, English language learners, and kids living in poverty?

Placing unrealistic expectations on people does nothing for them except engender frustration. Is that where we’re headed?

For more, please read:

Thoughts on a Popular Myth

A Little Perspective, Please

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One response to “The Fallacy of “High Expectations”

  1. Pingback: Thoughts from the Beach | From the Desk of Mr. Foteah

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