“We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else.”
President Barack Obama spoke these words in his second-term inaugural address and they eloquently define equity – the measure of fairness and opportunity for all children. Although at first glance equity seems to be interchangeable with equality, it is not quite the same. Equity encompasses all educational programs that are “fair and just,” according to The Glossary of Education Reform, “but may not, in the process of educating students, reflect strict equality.” Equity is the process of getting to an equal outcome.
Both nationally and globally, equity in education is a challenge because of issues such as race, gender, language, and socioeconomic status. We are all human, but the educational system as a whole has been challenged to achieve equity because of our differences. The availability of public school for all students of all races with no consideration of race gives everyone an opportunity for the same educational outcome. Gender may no longer seem inequitable in the United States, but it is an equity issue in developing countries where female students are often harassed and excluded from educational opportunities. Non-English speaking students may be disadvantaged if stuck in classrooms where only English is spoken, but they also do not get fair treatment if put in a program for “foreign-speaking” students and that program is of a lower-quality or the students are held to lower standards. It is not difficult to understand equity issues that exist in low-income communities where schools have low funding and few resources resulting in limited staffing and specialized programs. Students in this disadvantaged situation are reported to have lower academic goals and do not perform as well as those in a higher socioeconomic area.
Affirmative action is probably the most well-known equity program that sparked debate, especially at the college level. Most differences of opinion veer from the definition of equity and raise concerns of equality and fairness. If resources are diverted to students identified as special needs or those from low-income neighborhoods to overcome a situation that places them at an educational disadvantage, families in more affluent, higher-income neighborhoods might protest. The debate goes further with some believing that anyone can succeed if they do well in school and work hard to make their own opportunities. Others argue that the equity obstacles of racism and sexism keep even the most hard-working student from getting ahead on the same level as those who have the advantages of their place in middle or upper-class environments.
John Rosales, author of “Every Student Succeeds Act Helps Put Equity Front and Center, Say Experts” on NEAtoday.org, reports a panel discussion recently held in Washington, D.C., and sponsored by the organization Broader, Bolder Approach to Education (BBA), discussed policy reforms to affect the causes of equity issues in education. The discussion centered on the impact of poverty, but Elaine Weiss, BBA’s national coordinator, points to hope for dealing with many equity issues with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2015. “ESSA claws back some of the most problematic federal accountability requirements, and it emphasizes the need for social and emotional, as well as traditional academic, measures of student success,” she said. “It also sets aside new money for investments in quality pre-kindergarten and for wraparound supports that help provide disadvantaged students equal opportunities to learn.”
Equity is an issue in education that provides a means to success for all children. Terry Heick, founder/director of @teachthought, summed it up perfectly in his article “Equity in Education: Where to Begin” for Edutopia: “The work before us then, may not be to level an academic playing field for which there is no even, but rather to create new terms for why we learn, how, and where – and then change the expectation for what we do with what we know.”