Accuracy and the Quest for the Powerful Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
This chapter is framed around reviewing the scientific and empirical literature that has addressed three questions regarding teacher expectations: How powerful are expectancy effects in the classroom? How accurate is the typical teacher expectation? Have any conditions been identified under which truly powerful self-fulfilling prophecies do occur? The results regarding the first two questions are vividly clear because they have been so well established by so many studies: Expectancy effects in the classroom exist but are generally weak, fragile, and fleeting, and teacher expectations predict student achievement primarily because those expectations are accurate. A far more limited body of scientific research has addressed the third question, so that conclusions regarding conditions under which powerful self-fulfilling prophecies occur must be held more tentatively. Nonetheless, unusually large self-fulfilling prophecies have been found among students suffering from some sort of stigma (race, class, low achievement). Whether self-fulfilling prophecies primarily help or harm students, however, is currently unclear from the existing literature, with my own research finding helpful self-fulfilling prophecy effects among the largest yet found, but several other studies finding more evidence of harmful than of helpful self-fulfilling prophecies.
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