The Chinese state's commitment to improve teaching quality in rural regions is a key component of national efforts to close the rural–urban education gap. In this paper, we investigate an understudied but critical dimension of quality teaching: teacher expectations. We employ longitudinal data gathered in Gansu Province in 2000 and 2007 to first examine whether teacher expectations for rural youth are conditioned by students’ social origin and teacher background characteristics. Next, we determine the predictive accuracy of their expectations.
Our results highlight the ways in which teacher expectations condition the sorting of rural children among different schooling tracks with distinct life trajectories. Significantly, teachers are more likely to hold lower expectations for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. In addition, non-local teachers hold lower expectations for rural children compared to local teachers. Finally, a low percentage of teachers expect students to enrol in post-compulsory vocational education. We consider the implications of these results for both educational policy and social inequality.