The quality of education that students receive directly correlates to their quality of life years down the road. Early education especially has the power to shape a child’s future. It’s imperative that educators address any barriers young students face to succeeding in school. I’m with most educators in strongly believing that every child has the fundamental right to learn and to succeed. The key to ensuring this right is equity. When it comes to equity vs equality in education, the terms are often used interchangeably. Understanding the distinction between the 2 is essential for resolving issues faced by disadvantaged students in the classroom. The reason lies in the difference between being fair and being equal. 

Equity vs. Equality in Education  

Equality is a more well-known term than equity, perhaps because of the social issues we face around equality and acceptance of diversity. In short, equality (as it sounds) is the state of being equal. If someone is pushing for equality he/she is advocating for equal rights, opportunities, treatment, and resources for all Equality is beneficial, but it often doesn’t address specific needs. In short, equality is not enough to combat hundreds of years of oppression, poverty, and disproportionality. Let me put this into the context of education. A school that gives each student a take-home laptop doesn’t address the needs of those students who don’t have Internet access at their houses. Even though students have been given equal access to a device, some will still struggle. Equity, on the other hand, is about ensuring that everyone receives what they need to be successful—even if that varies across racial or socioeconomic lines. Equity is more thoughtful and, while it’s harder work, it’s substantially more impactful and effective. Remember, equality can only work if every student is starting in the exact same place.  

What are some of the barriers to achieving equity?  

Barriers to Achieving Equity 

  • Race and Ethnicity  
  • Poverty 
  • Access to Quality Teachers  
  • Family Crisis  
  • Hunger 
  • Lack of Stability in Home 
  • Abuse 
  • Homeless 
  • English as a Second Language  

It’s important to understand that students come from diverse backgrounds and have different needs. We don’t want to give each of them the exact same support (equality), we want to give them the support and resources to meet their individual needs (equity). The idea that all students should be in the exact same classroom doing the exact same thing is ancient. It’s important to be mindful of the barriers listed above and recognize the signs of them. If we don’t recognize these barriers, how will we work to help the student overcome them to get what they need? 

Benefits of Equity  

Equity in schools is the answer to supporting every student, not just those from disadvantaged backgrounds. It’s been proven that when individual students receive the support and resources they need to succeed, it positively impacts the classroom and school environment. Not only that, but the importance of equity extends to the broader society.  

On the surface, equity positively impacts academic achievement. Schools with the smallest achievement gaps between demographics have the highest overall test scores. This means that when the most disadvantaged student scores improve, scores for students from more privileged backgrounds improve too. When schools are mindful of different backgrounds and provide the right resources, all students are prepared to learn and help each other succeed. More importantly, there is a positive impact on Social Emotional Development. Being equipped to promote diversity and provide for students from all backgrounds makes for an environment where students feel comfortable and have better emotional regulation. Surrounding communities benefit from equity as well. It’s linked to stronger social cohesion, meaning that individuals connect with each other better and are more compassionate  

Knowing the difference between equity and equality is the first step to creating a classroom where every child can succeed. From there, educators can take steps to better address the challenges faced by struggling students.  

I leave you with SIX things to be mindful of when promoting equity in your classrooms and communities.  

  • Every child has different and unique needs. Evaluate the barriers your students may face and intervene with support resources. 
  • Create a classroom environment where every student has a voice and feels heard. Encourage them to use their voice.  
  • Keep parents and families engaged and maintain open communication.  
  • Flex your routines: Remember that 1-size lessons do not fit all. Be willing to flex or set aside your well-laid plans to individualize instruction. It’s not always convenient but it’s right.  
  • Make it safe to fail. When a child feels shame about his/her learning gaps, he/she will hide behind quiet compliance or acting out. In an equitable classroom, struggle and failure are normalized and celebrated. 
  • Integrate diversity and inclusion activities as well as lessons against prejudice into your curriculum so every student feels like he/she belongsEmbrace cultural differences and value all.  

The first step towards change is equity.  

Kristin Gauldin
Kristin Gauldin

I’m currently a Marketing Manager with hand2mind living in the greater Chicago area. I’m a former teacher and taught both 2nd and 6th grade math. I also spent many years as a math coach and had the pleasure of working with school districts across the country. In addition to my experience in education, I’m the mother of 2 girls ages 10 and 4. I rely on my experiences as both a teacher and a parent to write as I know many of our readers have experience with both! In my free time I coach my daughter’s softball team and spend a lot of time outdoors! I also enjoy rolling my sleeves up and tackling many DIY projects around the house!

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