Children and young people are the most valuable resource of every nation. As educators, administrators, teachers and parents, we have this invaluable resource in our hands. It is vitally important to consider that our students cannot pay the price for our ignorance or lack of awareness.

Through contrast and comparison between two different philosophies, Deficit Ideology vs. Pygmalion Effect, I intend to demonstrate that raising the expectations we have for our students could improve learning outcomes. On the other hand, it should be noted that lack of intention and awareness of the social and political beliefs, filtered in our daily way of thinking and acting can be very expensive societally in the long term. It is important to stress that U.S, Department of Education is paying attention to Pygmalion Effect, and is encouraging “… a group of states that have developed the Common Core State Standards, which go a long way toward establishing higher standards by setting out what students should know and be able to accomplish in reading and math” (Boser et al. 2014).

In contrast, Deficit Ideology creates a mental barrier, which can inhibit the creation of a healthy environment for student growth. Deficit ideology reduces the expectations for students and weakens an educator’s abilities to recognize giftedness in its various forms (Ford and Grantham 2003).


This paper will compare and contrast the main conclusions of two papers: “Unlearning Deficit Ideology and the Scornful Gaze: Thoughts on Authenticating the Class Discourse in Education” by Paul C. Gorsky (2010), and “The Power of the Pygmalion Effect ” by Ulrich Boser, Megan Wilhelm, and Robert Hanna (2014).


            The results comparing the conclusions in the two papers are summarized in Table Nos. 1, 2 and 3.

Table No. 1. Comparing and contrasting two different educational ideologies: Deficit Perspective vs. Pygmalion Effect.

Attributes Deficit perspective Pygmalion Effect
Teacher expectations shape the future of the student.
It is a system developed with a conscious purpose.
It is unconsciously installed in the socio-political and cultural context.
Leaders have this ideology and maintain as part of school culture.
Its vision is based on the strengths of individuals.
Its vision is based on the weaknesses of individuals.
It has an approach to solutions.
It has an approach to problems.
It gets consistent results according to their initial approach.
The educators’ discourse is around “every student is gifted and talented.” Others urge us to “find the gift in every child”; to “focus on student strengths.” (Gorsky, 2010)
Teachers’ expectations have long-term effects in the students. *

* Education researchers found that predisposed teacher expectations at the end of primary school predicted secondary school outcomes. Psychologists from the University of Michigan, found that teacher expectations in sixth and seventh grade predicted student achievement six years later (Boser et al. 2014).

 Table No. 2. High school teachers’ expectancies for students of color and students from disadvantaged backgrounds.(Boser et al. 2014)

These teachers predicted that:
•       High-poverty students were 53 percent less likely to earn a college diploma than their more wealthy peers.
•       African American students were 47 percent less likely to graduate from college than their white peers.
•       Hispanic students were 42 percent less likely to earn a college diploma than their white peers.

Table No. 3. High school students whose teachers have higher expectancies about their accomplishment are far more probable to graduate from college.

•       “10th grade students who had teachers with higher expectations were more than three times more likely to graduate from college than students who had teachers with lower expectations” (Boser et al. 2014).
•       Referring to college-preparation programs “Students who have more rigorous academic opportunities and experiences—including opportunities to practice and gain knowledge—are more likely to succeed academically” (Boser et al. 2014).
•       86 percent of teachers say that there is a solid connection between having “high expectations for all students” and student learning (Boser et al. 2014).
•       “36 percent of teachers say that “all of their students” can achieve academic success. 13 percent of teachers “believe that all of their students are motivated to succeed academically.” It seems, then, that teachers think that high expectations are important, but they are not always confident that everyone in their classrooms can achieve academic success” (Boser et al. 2014).


Deficit ideology is a deeply rooted ideology in the educational environment that comes from “…approaching students based upon our perceptions of their weaknesses rather than their strengths”, as it reflected in Table No. 1 (Gorsky 2010). This perspective comes from the emphasis on the statistical trend observed in disenfranchised social groups, e.g. poverty is associated with school failure (McWhirter et al. 2013). As can be seen in Table No. 2, there is a widespread cultural tendency to link the outcomes reflected in population statistics with students in schools; thus, in schools with large black and/or Hispanic populations in poor neighborhoods, the teachers and administrators generally expect to get underachievement outcomes. The most disadvantageous characteristic of deficit ideology emerges when educators, or any other person or social group, mistake mere difference with inability. Thus, a foreign accent in English can be taken as an indicator of intellectual weakness or disadvantage. Deficit ideology is a sociopolitical symptom, based upon a set of assumed truths about the world, spread inside the society with the specific function of explaining and justifying unequal conditions (Grosky 2010). When deficit ideology thinking occurs in educators, the response is to want to correct the effect or symptom (poor academic performance), instead of focusing on the underlying causal factors associated with economic poverty, e.g. violence, low family academic expectations or low cultural stimulus.

The approach of trying to solve a problem by decreasing the symptoms, instead of going to the cause, does not ultimately correct the problem; it only masks the effect, which will emerge in another way. So, as educators, we become fire fighters reacting to emergencies instead of developing and implementing solutions of that get at the root cause. In fact, the deficit perspective is considered as “…a symptom of larger sociopolitical conditions and ideologies borne out of complex socialization processes. We no more can quash the deficit perspective without acknowledging, examining, and quashing these processes than we can eliminate racism without comprehending and battling white supremacist ideology” (Grosky 2010). This is basically trying to fix a problem with by creating another problem. As educators, we cannot afford to unconsciousness. The first step to being a teacher is the awareness of our inner condition and the possibility of observing the student through a vision without prejudices; education should be a way to improve our temperament, character and ideologies, so that there is a space of inner peace, where we can observe without judgment our special guests, our students. As educators we should always be aware of our thoughtsand prejudices which can seep into school culture as a matter of habit.

According with Boser et al. (2014), high school teachers often have lower expectancies for students of color and students from disadvantaged backgrounds. In contrast, students perform better when more is expected of them. In the education literature, is known as the “Pygmalion Effect.” “It has been demonstrated in study after study, and the results can sometimes be quite significant. In one research project, for instance, teacher expectations of a preschooler’s ability were a robust predictor of the child’s high school GPA” (Boser et al. 2014).

In Table No. 3, the elevated beliefs of teachers had a very “strong predictive” relationship with college graduation rates. As Boser et al. (2014) state, it cannot be said for sure that teacher anticipations improved college graduation rates, but we can infer the following causal possibilities:

  1. Teachers with lower expectations are more likely to teach traditionally disadvantaged students who are less likely to succeed in college.
  2. Teachers with high expectations might simply be very good at figuring out who will graduate from college, notwithstanding the backgrounds of the students they teach. However, high school students who work hard in high school, as those who are enroll in College-preparation programs and other educational programs that support higher expectations, are more likely to graduate from college (Boser et al. 2014).

Besides, the last row of Table No. 3 shows that there is a huge difference between acting, thinking and being. Teachers who feel, think and act as a result of the high expectations of their students see a robust Pygmalion Effect. Teachers who only say they have high expectations, but basically think with a deficit ideology, will not typically see any Pygmalion Effect.


It is important to observe that “… the data suggest that more needs to be done to improve teacher instructional capacity” (Boser et al. 2014), and the Pygmalion Effect is just an important consideration of in a complex problem that will need diverse solutions. Grosky (2011) concludes that “…still, here we are, all these years later, grappling with deficit ideology, hegemonically buried in it, using it implicitly as the basis for conversations about myriad social problems from health care disparities to educational outcome inequalities.”



Boser U., Wilhelm M. and Hanna R. 2014. The power of the Pygmalion effect. Center for American Progress. Retrieved at:

Ford, D.Y., and Grantham, T.C. 2003. Providing access for culturally diverse gifted students: From deficit to dynamic thinking. Theory into Practice 42(3): 217-225.

Gorsky, P. 2010. Unlearning deficit ideology and the scornful gaze: thoughts on authenticating the class discourse in education. George Mason University.

McWhirter. J. et al. 2013. At-Risk youth: a comprehensive response for counselors, teachers, psychologists, and human service professionals. Brooks/Cole, Cengage Learning.


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