A recent study from TNTP finds a pervasive pattern of low expectations schools that harms the most vulnerable students. The authors observed thousands of lessons in hundreds of schools, and found that majority white and high-income classrooms were more likely to have qualities that have a positive impact on student learning – strong instruction that encourages students to do most of the thinking, rather than lecturing; high expectations; grade-appropriate assignments; and deep student engagement. Having these factors in a classroom is especially impactful for students who start the year behind.
The study found that overall, students were only given grade level-appropriate work 26% of the time, meaning that even students that met expectations in school could be woefully unprepared for post-secondary education. 40% of classrooms with majority students of color never received a single grade-level assignment (compared with 10% of majority white classrooms). Classrooms with higher income students spent twice as much time on grade-appropriate work than those with lower-income students. In classrooms with majority students of color, 66% of teachers who were the same race as the majority of students had high expectations. Of teachers who were a different race from their students, 35% had high expectations. Students of color who got good grades were less likely to do well on state and AP tests than white students who got the same grades, indicating teachers in classrooms with mostly students of color had lower standards.
These findings have major implications for the students we serve. People of color are over-represented in the homeless population. According to LAHSA, 36% of people experiencing homelessness in LA County are Black or African-American, and 35% are Latino. Only 25% are white. Homeless children are also likely to attend schools in low-income areas. In addition, students experiencing homelessness are often behind their grade level – moving schools can cause a student to lose 3-6 months of learning. Our students are among those who are the most in need of the impactful factors identified by the study.
Youth experiencing homelessness need caring people to invest and believe in them. If our students are not challenged and engaged with meaningful work, they cannot achieve their full potential, and may struggle to succeed later in life. In order to break the cycle of homelessness, our students need supportive learning environments where they are encouraged and expected to do their best.