Varying Teacher Expectations and Standards: Curriculum Differentiation in the Age of Standards-Based Reform

Issue/Topic: Teaching Quality--Teacher Attitudes
Author(s): Harris, Donna
Publication: Education and Urban Society
Published On: 2012

The development of academic standards in each state creates the context where common educational experiences and academic outcomes exist for all students regardless of the school they attend, the teacher they have, or the learning group placed. However, while the standards-based reform has the potential to ensure more equitable educational experiences for students, its impact can be compromised by the deficit beliefs that exist about low-income students and students of color and their families.

To explore whether and how teachers interpret students' social and academic differences in deficit ways when they are expected to assist students with attaining common academic standards.

  • The data show that standards in and of themselves did not remedy the challenges that schools and teachers confronted with students of varying academic skills and engagement. 
  • Beliefs held by teachers about students and their families can become an institutional barrier for expanding opportunities to learn when the burden for improvement rests primarily on students. 
  • Varied perceptions of student capacity to achieve standards may lead to the stratification of curriculum and instruction when teachers unevenly apply standards.

Policy Implications/Recommendations:
  • There has to be an alignment between teachers' beliefs and practices in order for standards to dramatically improve students' learning and outcomes for all.
  • To change teacher practice, there has to be ongoing support within and outside the classroom to address teacher beliefs.
    • Changing deeply embedded beliefs that teachers and other personnel hold requires a different kind of professional investment where staff must confront negative beliefs about students that are shaped by race, social class, and English language status.
  • The path to helping students that vary academically, culturally, and linguistically in relation to standards requires a systemic approach to unearthening deeply entrenched ideas about student deficits and intelligence among all school personnel and teachers specifically.

Research Design:

270 teachers and school leaders from five urban middle schools

Year data is from:


Data Collection and Analysis:
interviews of 270 teacher and school leaders from five middle schools and 244 teacher survey responses from four of the five middle schools.


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