Standards are “things” we decide and use in comparative evaluations. Having expectations is not the same as setting standards.
And to make the right decisions about education reform, we must consider the words of reform for the wizards of the written word would have the public once again believing their propaganda. To be clear, it is standards-based education reforms that we have been witness to and victims of for the last two decades.
The use of the word “standards” is being periodically replaced in documents and in talking points by the word “expectations.”
An expectation is a belief that something will happen. It is not a thing. It is a human emotion, an idea with the potential to convey confidence in another person’s ability to succeed.
“High expectations” cannot simply be set down on paper for others to read and follow; they need to be felt. When students feel someone believes in their abilities and capacity to learn, they grow and “reach higher.” High expectations “work” because the student feels supported in their efforts.
So as the last two decades of “reform” of public schools has dragged on, little real change has been accomplished compared to the 70’s and 80’s — gaps in learning persist and schools in many areas have re-segregated themselves to the point where we must revisit the issue of separate but unequal.
And as we do, we should take more than a little time to consider the ideas of Rhona S. Weinstein in Reaching Higher: The Power of Expectations in Schooling. As she explains, “Change has not been dramatic because we have yet to address the deeply institutionalized roots of expectancy processes in schooling and we have failed to equip teachers and principals with the knowledge, resources, and support to teach all children in ways that help them reach their full potentials.…Suffice it to say that until unbiased instruction is provided to children — resulting in equal exposure to challenging material, equal opportunity to respond and demonstrate knowledge, equally nurturing relationships, and the absence of discriminatory labels and barriers to accomplishment —one cannot fully rule out environmental explanations for the achievement gaps that are documented.”
This isn’t saying that all children need a set curriculum for “…the danger of a common curriculum and common method is that the individual differences of children (in learning style, pace of learning, and interests) are likely disregarded, ultimately leading to greater rates of school failure.”
This is about developing a school culture — an atmosphere —where the principal, counselors, and teachers have a deep-seated belief that every student is capable of being educated to the limits of his or her talents. And that belief is expressed through words and actions that set the expectations for the student. If they feel they can, they can.