Equity in the Classroom
Submitted by STEMscopes
Equity, particularly equity in education, is being discussed today with a new intensity. The increasing income gap, the simultaneous erosion of social safety nets and civil liberties, and the disparities in the treatment of people based on race and other characteristics—all are contributing factors to a society that is becoming polarized around issues of inequity. To the individual who wants to be part of a solution, the forces that have created this dense web of factors may seem massive, immovable, and overwhelmingly complex.
“In 1968, the Kerner Commission issued a report concluding that the nation was “moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.” Without major social changes, the Commission warned, the U.S. faced a “system of apartheid” in its major cities. Today, 50 years after the report was issued, that prediction characterizes most of our large urban areas, where intensifying segregation and concentrated poverty have collided with disparities in school funding to reinforce educational inequality, locking millions of students of color from low income families out of today’s knowledge-based economy.”
– Linda Darling-Hammond, Learning Policy Institute
In education, inequity applies at every level, from federal policy to state- and district-level funding down to the individual school, classroom, and student. In this article, we will explore the meaning of equity, including the difference between equity and equality, provide a brief overview of how federal policies addressing inequity have shifted over the past few decades, touch on systemic versus individual bias, and dive into instructional strategies that can help tackle inequity where teachers have always made a difference to their students: in the classroom.
What Are We Talking About When We Talk About Equity?
Let’s start by defining equity. In education, equity is about creating a level playing field for all students so they can succeed in their education. Australian researcher Geoff Masters comments, “[S]tudents are treated ‘equitably’ when their unequal starting points are acknowledged and when attempts are made to differentially meet individual needs.” Masters references recent research at Yale that found that people generally value fairness over equal treatment— that is, they recognize that there are circumstances where it’s more important to be fair than to distribute resources equally. Masters concludes, “In an ‘equitable’ school system, students’ special needs and unequal socioeconomic backgrounds are recognized and resources (for example, teaching expertise) are distributed unequally in an attempt to redress disadvantage due to personal and social circumstances. Here again, ‘equity’ is achieved by prioritizing fairness over equality.”