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To Motivate Students, Expect the Best

When I was young, my mother constantly seemed to be talking about other people's kids and their academic successes. "So and so got into Dartmouth." "______ was the valedictorian of her class." Half the time, I didn't even know which child she was referring to, but I got the idea she had similar high expectations for me. And I found the whole exercise pretty annoying.

Well, according to Cal-State Long Beach Education Professor William Jeynes, my mom was apparently doing me a favor by letting me know that she expected me to do well in school. (I should add that she would make that demand pretty bluntly, as well.)

A recent story in Miller-McCune discusses the work of Jeynes, along with other research that supports his findings. Apparently, subtle setting of high expectations can boost grade point averages by a full three-quarters of a point among high schoolers.

In an interview I did with Kati Haycock, the founder of The Education Trust, which I've already written about once today), she told me that expecting the best needs to happen at school, as well. In fact, she partly blames the achievement gap on teachers not thinking their kids can do work that they can actually handle. Many charter schools, such as KIPP Academies, are known to reinforce the goal of going to college by having its teachers display pennants from the institutions they attended.

While I was lucky to have strong parental involvement (parental over-involvement, I'd call it), not everyone has that luxury. And the Miller-McCune piece notes that with the Obama administration proposing nearly $300 to improve parental involvement programs as part of its reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, findings like Jeynes—which noted that subtle expectations were a lot more effective than helicoptering and checking your child's homework every night—should be considered in deciding which programs ultimately get funding.

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