Teacher deficit thinking as an informal practice

Another factor that influences the academic success of racial and linguistic minority students is the achievement expectations of a teacher. Explicitly focussing on racial and minority students, African-born scholar, Dei (1996) demonstrates that negative teacher expectations are a central factor in the negative educational experiences of minority students. Similarly, several British-based research studies have recognised that teachers hold lower expectations for African Caribbean students (Archer & Francis, 2007; Gillborn, 2009; Maylor, 2014; Strand, 2012; Wright et al., 2010). Critics,

Theoretical framework 31 however, argue that due to their exclusive focus on Black Caribbeans in the U.K. and African Americans in the U.S., none of them provides an insight into the situation of Black African immigrants and their children in Britain and the USA. While British and American scholars have mainly focussed on White teachers and Black Caribbean or African American students, other social scientists (Conchas, 2006; Lee, 2005; Moore, 2013) have argued that teachers hold stereotypes linking race, ethnicity and home language to intelligence and that these stereotypes have a significant impact on the motivation and competence of minority students.

Educational researchers (Callahan et al., 2010; Kuyok, 2011; Lee, 2005), have demonstrated that teachers not only hold low expectations of children who are poor and culturally diverse but also deliver low-quality instructions to such children. In a similar study, Lee (2005) argues that teachers’ deficit orientation directly and indirectly influences teaching practices, and specifically, limits access to mainstream curricula and peers from diverse backgrounds. Critics of EAL/ESL consider the practice to be a significant source of inequality in access to educational opportunities and learning. The effect of EAL practices manifests in both the academic and the social domains. Kuyok’s (2011) study shows that children of Horn of Africans are often referred by teachers for special education. Minority scholars have revealed that the over-representation of linguistic minority students in EAL/ESL or special education is due to the deficit model of thinking, according to which these students lack motivation and are intellectually inferior and the product of their home environment (Kuyok, 2011). From a school’s perspective, teachers utilising what Donna Ford called deficit thinking means they have low expectations of someone or fail to give them work, based on their own views (Ford et al., 2008). Therefore, the scholars mentioned above have asked why some children of immigrants successfully adapt academically and excel, while others do not. They have gone on to state that home language alone does not explain the variation in educational outcomes or behavioural patterns among some immigrant children and adolescents. To answer the question, Chapters 4 and 5 will focus on analysing how school structure and language policies and practices produce different outcomes for different students by offering various learning opportunities.


How does language policy structure opportunity?

The goal of this chapter is to justify why the traditional social capital theories are not adequate to explain some racial, poor and linguistic minority students’ academic failure. The overall aim of this chapter is to develop and apply alternative conceptualisations of social capital to explain the effects of inequality on the educational outcomes of non-European andpoor minority students. In addressing the research question, the chapter seeks some answers as to why some minority students fail, while others academically excel even though they come from the same disadvantaged social backgrounds.

The chapter begins by critically synthesising the shortcomings of the traditional social capital theories and their key theoretical explanations and their limitations in gaining a complete picture of racial, ethnic, poor and linguistic minority students and their educational failure process. Then, the discussion moves on to explain why Brough and colleagues (2006), Akom (2003) and others have argued that conventional social capital theory is not conceptually and methodologically applicable to the study of racial, ethnic and linguistic minority students’ levels of academic achievement in today’s multicultural and multiracial societies. Therefore, the theoretical approach of this research studyshifts to examine social networks and social reproduction theories that provide a lens of understanding through which this study sets up to explore the process of academic failure of racial and linguistic minority students. The concept of social capital, thus, needs to be developed to serve as a useful conceptual tool to examine the subjective experiences of students in the education context.

The first key framework emphasises the centrality of identity in researching non-European populations that are culturally, racially and ethnically diverse. Drawing on Brough and his colleagues’ argument, a theoretical approach has been adopted that challenges Putnam’s use of the concept of bonding and bridging social capital. Based on their qualitative research studies, the chapter further examines the theoretical development of the concept of social capital, specifically focussing on the centrality of identity. The conceptual framework of this study demonstrates why the two traditional social capital theories (Coleman and Bourdieu) are problematic in addressing academic failure of racial and linguistic minority students.

The second theoretical framework, based on Stanton-Salazar’s empirical studies, has been used to study the role institutional agents play in academic trajectories of poor and linguistic minority and immigrant students. He argues that supportive ties with institutional agents serve as the primary source of some aspects of social capital that are mainly found outside the family.

The third sociological explanation offers a lens to explain how language policies structure opportunity for native-born linguistic minority students. The relevant section discusses the critical relationship between language and educational policies with respect to EAL students and examines how language policies or EAL placement prevents linguistic minority students from accessing key information and accruing necessary cultural capital (Lee, 2005). Another predictor of linguistic minority students’ academic failure is teachers’ deficit thinking, which is based on the subjective assessments of teachers, which are in turn often detrimental to the future academic careers of linguistic minority students. This further explains the

Theoretical framework 33 role teachers’ expectations play in perpetuating the achievement gap between linguistic minority and monolingual peers. Furthermore, it has been argued that access to supportive institutional agents depends on the structure of opportunity that schools offer to students. Sociologists have demonstrated that students have different access to valued resources and institutional agents based on their race, ethnicity, language and class. For some racial and linguistic minority students, EAL/ESL placement serves as an exclusionary practice that prevents students from accessing supportive institutional agents and valued academic resources.

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