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School Segregation and Math Achievement: A Mixed-Method Study on the Role of Self-Fulfilling Prophecies


by Orhan Agirdag, Piet Van Avermaet & Mieke Van Houtte — 2013

Background: In educational research on children’s academic performance, few topics have received more attention than the consequences of school segregation and the impact of self-fulfilling prophecies. However, virtually no research has investigated whether self-fulfilling prophecies account for the impact of school composition on academic achievement.

Purpose & Research Objectives: This study aims to integrate research on the effects of school segregation with that on self-fulfilling prophecies by examining the mediating role of teacher expectancies regarding the impact of school composition on pupils’ math achievement. First, we investigate whether teachers’ teachability expectations are related to the socioeconomic and ethnic composition of the school. Second, we investigate whether and how the effects of school composition can be explained by self-fulfilling prophecies. Because it is theorized that teacher expectancies might have an impact on pupils’ academic achievement through pupils’ perceptions of control over their achievement, we investigate the role of pupils’ sense of academic futility.

Sample & Research Design: Quantitative data from a survey of 2,845 pupils and 706 teachers in 68 Flemish (Belgian) primary schools and qualitative data obtained through in-depth interviews with 26 teachers in five schools are analyzed. A complementary mixed-method design is used: Findings from the quantitative data are strengthened and illustrated with qualitative data.

Results: The multilevel analysis shows that teachers’ teachability expectations are lower in schools with a high share of nonnative and working-class pupils and that these teachability expectations have an indirect impact on pupils’ achievement through pupils’ feelings of academic futility. The qualitative analysis reveals that the low teacher expectations in these schools are largely triggered by alleged linguistic deficiencies and problematic language use of the pupils and that school staff persistently communicate their preference for Dutch monolingualism to pupils.

Recommendations: The results of this study indicate that socioeconomic desegregation may not be needed if it is possible to reform schools with a larger share of working-class pupils. Schools that produce more favorable teachability expectations are recommended. In particular, teachers’ attitudes and beliefs regarding pupils’ linguistic backgrounds might be the focus of educational reforms.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 115 Number 3, 2013, p. 1-50
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16895, Date Accessed: 10/20/2017 3:37:37 PM

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About the Author
  • Orhan Agirdag
    Ghent University
    E-mail Author
    ORHAN AGIRDAG, Ph.D., is a sociologist of education. He is associated with the research group CuDOS, Ghent University, Belgium. His research interests include segregation, multilingual education, and religious diversity in education. Currently he is a Fulbright and BAEF Postdoctoral Fellow at the Civil Rights Project at the University of California Los Angeles. He has published several articles in journals such as European Sociological Review, Ethnic and Racial Studies, and British Journal of Sociology of Education.
  • Piet Van Avermaet
    Ghent University
    E-mail Author
    PIET VAN AVERMAET, Ph.D., is a sociolinguist. He is a professor at and director of the Centre for Diversity and Learning at Ghent University. His main research interests are multilingual and multicultural education, diversity and social inequality in education, educational linguistics, sociolinguistics, and language assessment
  • Mieke Van Houtte
    Ghent University
    E-mail Author
    MIEKE VAN HOUTTE, Ph.D. sociology, is currently working as lecturer in the Department of Sociology, Research Group CuDOS, at Ghent University (Belgium). Her research interests cover diverse topics within the sociology of education, particularly the effects of structural and compositional school features on several outcomes for students and teachers. Her work has been published in journals such as Journal of Curriculum Studies, Journal of Educational Research, School Effectiveness and School Improvement, Sociology of Education, and American Educational Research Journal.
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