The Belief Gap

What is the Belief Gap?

We hear a lot about the academic struggles of low-income students and students of color—particularly comparing them to their White and wealthier peers.

Typically, we hear these disparities described as gaps: Achievement Gap, Opportunity Gap, Wealth Gap, Discipline Gap, etc.

But there’s another gap we have to tackle: the Belief Gap.

What Is the Belief Gap?

The Belief Gap is the gap between what students can achieve and what others believe they can achieve.

How do we know the Belief Gap exists? Consider these facts:

  • Undermatching
    Most low-income students with good grades and test scores don’t even bother to apply to top colleges. This is called undermatching, and it’s believed to happen largely because students aren’t aware of the options available to them.
  • Gifted and Talented
    Low-income and minority students are far less likely to enroll in gifted and talented programs, even when they have the aptitude to succeed in these courses.
  • Implicit Bias
    White teachers are much less likely than Black teachers to see Black students as college material, even when talking about the same students. As early as preschool, teachers rely on harmful stereotypes of Black children. This kind of unconscious stereotyping is called implicit bias. While these biases may be unintentional, the expectations teachers hold for students can significantly affect student outcomes and success.

Taken together, these trends suggest that some people assume the effects of poverty are too great to overcome—that impoverishment defines students—and that some kids just can’t succeed.

The Solution: Believing in All Kids

Here’s the thing: Poverty isn’t destiny.

Every day, in schools across the country, students are beating the odds. It takes hard work, engaged family members, compassionate communities, and dedicated teachers and school leaders. But it starts with a belief that students, despite their background, can succeed.

Someone believed in Kim.

Someone believed in Dashaun.

Someone believed in Lily.

Someone believed in Jabari.

These stories of hope and progress are often drowned out, or dismissed as outliers and exceptions to the rule.

But these stories, and countless others like them, show us that when we believe in our students—by holding them to the same high standards as their peers, by giving them high-quality school options, by holding ourselves accountable for the quality of their learning—they can and do achieve great things.

Because they can.

Posted Jan. 13, 2017
endlessbattles

My Students Have Already Fought Endless Battles to Survive Before They Even Set Foot in School

Earlier this year, my first year of teaching ninth- and 10th-grade English, I taught a graphic novel called “Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside…

By Christopher Mah

Read Post

Posted Jan. 13, 2017
bobo_jones_curtis

For Most People the MLK Holiday Is a Day Off, But for Me It’s a Day On

AmeriCorps member Jarrett Jones will be spending MLK Day giving back to his community. Along with over 1,000 volunteers, Jarret will be a part of…

By Jarrett Jones

Read Post

Posted Jan. 10, 2017
maryftd

I Had to Stop Blowing Off School So I Could Make a Difference in My Community

I’m not ashamed to admit that I fell into the stereotype of a student that previously never understood the importance of a strong education and…

By Mary Morel

Read Post

Posted Jan. 10, 2017
armando

This Is How Far a Simple ‘I Believe in You’ Can Go

“I didn’t realize what I can do and that I can make a difference with my actions. Thank you for showing me that I can…

By Alma-Delia Renteria

Read Post

Posted Dec. 30, 2016
marta-segura-post-resized

Here’s What I Learned After My Son Faced Implicit Racial Bias in Kindergarten

What is implicit racial bias? Implicit bias is the unconscious associations and assumptions made between groups of people which affect the routine classroom and administrative…

By Marta Segura

Read Post

Posted Dec. 28, 2016
edpost123

There’s No Excuse for Schools Not to Tackle Teacher Racial Bias

This is the third part of a four-part series on the writer’s experience and research on the achievement gap in her hometown of Evanston, Illinois, a…

By Nadra Kareem Nittle

Read Post

Posted Dec. 23, 2016
orie-graduate

My Former School District Just Made Fighting a Felony, and Here’s the Problem

In 2006, I graduated from Hazelwood Central High School in St. Louis County. Up until I turned 16, and later sometimes to save on gas…

By Mike “Orie” Mosley

Read Post

Posted Dec. 22, 2016
kim_pc

16 Students Who Give Us Hope for 2017

2016 was quite a surreal year in many ways, filled with depressing world events, one too many mass shootings, multiple celebrity deaths, record-hot temperatures, bizarre…

By Kimberly De Guzman

Read Post

Posted Dec. 14, 2016
doreen-resized

Stop Fetishizing Minority Students as Superhuman Poverty Survivors

Why must we always outperform White folks at elite institutions? Resilience. Grit. Strength. Resistance. Surviving, thriving and surpassing against all odds, statistics and the status…

By Doreen Mohammed

Read Post

Posted Dec. 14, 2016
girlreading

I Had to Prove to My White Teachers That I Did Not Have a Learning Disability

This is the first part of a four-part series on the Nadra’s experience and research on the achievement gap in her hometown of Evanston, Illinois,…

By Nadra Kareem Nittle

Read Post

OUR NETWORK

Featured Posts

Posted Jan. 17, 2017
accountability

The Fight That Should Matter Most to Progressive Advocates for Children Is Accountability

In 2007, candidate Barack Obama stood before the National Education Association and made it clear that he supports testing, accountability, choice and even merit pay.…

By Peter Cunningham

Read Post

Posted Jan. 19, 2017
runalftd

A Student’s Inaugural Poem to Trump

As I considered the 2016 campaign and election, thinking about how or if it should become central in my teaching or my classroom, I turned…

By Runal Patel, Seth MacLowry

Read Post

Posted Jan. 19, 2017
parentsucceed

I’m a Parent Fighting for My Children to Succeed

A parent first. That’s who I am, how I identify myself. My children are my pride, my joy and my contribution to the greater good.…

By Tafshier Cosby

Read Post

Browse by Date

Keep Up With
Education Post

Sign up for weekly emails featuring our top blog posts:

What We’re
Tweeting