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Equity and Equality: Eliminating Opportunity Gaps in Education

Discussions about eliminating achievement gaps in education, especially the disparity between underserved populations, inevitably focus on the idea of equity. For many years, educators worked diligently to ensure that students of color, poverty, and disabilities were treated equally.

Unfortunately, equality, or the notion of fairness, assumes that all students will have equal opportunity regardless of their circumstances and doesn’t consider that some students encounter obstacles to opportunities due to their situation. So, in the end, the sameness approach doesn’t eliminate gaps in education.

Equity vs. Equality

Although sometimes used interchangeably, equity and equality are vastly different. Educators recognize that the difference between the terms is crucial for policy decisions and legislation; both are essential in the classroom and necessary for eliminating gaps in education. At the core, equity refers to fairness, while equality is about sameness.

Equity is rooted in offering individualized support to students that address possible barriers, like poverty, limited transportation, or learning disabilities. Equity ensures that every student receives the opportunities and resources they need depending on their specific situation. For instance, students with learning disabilities require special accommodations and may need more attention and personalized instruction than those without learning challenges.

Equality and Equity Are Essential for Positive Student Outcomes

Equity ensures that all students have appropriately tailored opportunities to learn and reach the same positive outcomes, regardless of their unique challenges or where they started. It means considering each student’s circumstances, from disabilities to cultural differences. An equitable approach in the classroom means that not all students will respond similarly to instruction.

Providing personalized attention to students can be challenging for educators. It requires allocating funds for Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) for students with disabilities. In addition, funding must be made available to support programs to help students catch up if they fall behind and to ensure that educators have the resources they need to provide personalized attention to students who need it are all ways legislation and policy can help create equitable classrooms.

Equality in education is necessary so that students start with the same opportunities. For example, equality in education means that every student receives the same resources and opportunities, like equal funding for all schools, equal access to quality materials and facilities and the same quality of instruction.

Educators frequently have to contend with a lack of equality because all schools don’t receive the same level of funding, amount of materials, or quality of instruction and facilities. Throughout the country, resources are often more abundant for students who reside in certain zip codes. As a result, lines are drawn based on class and race, and students of color frequently achieve lower educational outcomes due to unequal opportunities and resources.

Effective Ways To Promote Equity in the Classroom

Addressing the diverse needs of students and promoting equity in the classroom is complex. Educators know they must promote equality and equity in the classroom but often don’t have the necessary resources. There are steps you can take to accomplish equity in the classroom.

Establish an Inclusive Environment Early

Establishing rules and precedence from the beginning can help ensure a more inclusive classroom environment. For example, share your intention to create an inclusive classroom with students from the start. Let them know that means that students should feel comfortable expressing a variety of views.

A critical component of creating an inclusive classroom is letting students know that you won’t tolerate name-calling, personal attacks and hostile interactions. Let students know that it’s okay to disagree but that it must be done with respect.

Use Your Physical Space To Encourage Equity

The way you use your classroom space can foster inclusion in the classroom. How you use the space signals authority and how students should engage with you and one another. For example, do you always stand in the front of the room to talk to the students? Instead, consider moving among your students to de-emphasize the teacher-student hierarchy and stimulate more discussion.

Another option is group seating, which can emphasize the interaction between students. Whether for workgroups or pairing students, arranging students in different formations may increase their engagement with each other and the class material.

Reflect Honestly on Your Beliefs

Administrators and educators, like anyone, may not always be aware of their biases. Anyone, even the most well-intentioned, may have blind spots. For example, due to a lack of preparation in their training, white teachers may not understand the challenges of historically marginalized students.

Understanding the circumstances that create your identity in terms of race, gender and ability can help you become more conscious of issues related to racial equity and gender equity. As a result, you can better support students in your class.

Accommodate Disabilities and Learning Styles

There are various learning styles, and what works best for each student differs. A few methods to help create equity in the classroom include:

  • Present your lessons in different ways for visual, auditory and verbal learners

  • Use various media (e.g., audiobooks, movies)

  • Make transcripts available for multimedia materials

  • Provide supplemental materials for lesson plans (e.g., glossaries, illustrations)

  • Utilize accessible technology (e.g., devices that give students the ability to increase text size or adjust brightness)

  • Use dyslexia-friendly fonts for presentations

  • Read any test instructions aloud, even if they appear in print

Get the Support You Need To Create Equitable Classrooms

The National Math and Science Initiative offers coaching and several other programs to build strong communities and empower teachers to work together, practice together, and reflect on their teaching and the needs of their students. The support offered by NMSI are designed to meet educators at the intersections where help is needed to become high-quality teachers who deliver better student outcomes.