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.

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