tions.23 Many of these students consistently carry the maximum number of academic subjects allowed by their schools’ schedules, often starting on their homework as late as 10:00 pm. Added to all of this activity is a rushed school schedule that includes a 25–30 minute lunch period in a crowded cafeteria as the only break in the day. Problems at home and with friends and concerns about school safety and personal well-being distract many secondary school students from their academic pursuits. Fully 25 percent of secondary school students report that it is difficult for them to concentrate in class because they are worried about problems at home. This finding is most prevalent among low-income students: 55 percent of these students versus 17 percent of students whose families have few economic worries report that they think so much about home that they cannot concentrate in school (Hart Research Associates, 1999).
Moreover, 40 percent of students say that students who interrupt classes with bad behavior are a major problem that interferes with learning. Indeed, many parents and students view advanced study courses as temporary havens from such disruptions. Almost a quarter of the students surveyed said that teachers not knowing or caring about them as individuals is a big problem as well.
Students’ educational opportunities and achievement are strongly tied to the beliefs and values of those who educate them (Rosenthal, 1987; Rosenthal, Baratz, and Hall, 1974; Rosenthal and Rubin, 1978; Rutter, McNaughan, Mortimore, and Ouston, 1979). Offering advanced courses in most if not all academic subjects is one way to give students the message that teachers and administrators view participation in higher education as expected and attainable, and that they value the efforts and persistence required to prepare for college.
Most students perform poorly when their teachers do not believe in their abilities, in large part because such beliefs translate into fewer learning opportunities (Lee, 2001; Lee and Smith, 1996; Raudenbush, 1984; Rosenthal and Jacobson, 1968). Many teachers set different learning objectives for students according to perceptions of their abilities. For example, mathematics and science classes taught by teachers who report that their students are of “high” ability focus on developing reasoning and inquiry skills, whereas