The future of education and true equity in education is dependent on the recognition of our students as individuals who learn in different ways and at different speeds.
The use of standardized testing does not allow for these considerations and is a large reason why they are not currently used as heavily as they once were.
Equity goes beyond accessibility and considers each student as an individual who deserves the joy of learning and attaining a quality education that will serve them well throughout all stages of their lives. It is with this in mind that we begin to examine the tools used in education, especially those that measure a student’s progress as well as their overall abilities.
The foundation of equity in education is accessibility. If all students are not able to access the same level of resources, there can be no true equity in education. There must be a level playing field if we want all children to succeed. In order to reach this level of parity, there must be an agreement on goals, techniques, and educational systems.
Understanding equity in education
The idea of equity in education cannot be limited to socioeconomic status, gender, race, citizenship, and access to tools and resources. This is a good starting point but it is hardly the whole picture.
The idea of equity is timely and also global. This idea is not one that is limited to the United States or the developed world. The concept works on a global scale and can benefit students on a worldwide basis. The Economist published the following, based on statistics provided by the United Nations:
“While progress is being made in sub-Saharan Africa in primary education, gender inequality is widening among older children. The ratio of girls enrolled in primary school rose from 85 to 93 per 100 boys between 1999 and 2010, whereas it fell from 83 to 82 and from 67 to 63 at the secondary and tertiary levels. And elsewhere, in Chad and the Central African Republic, there is a flat rate of fewer than 70 girls for every 100 boys.”
Equity is unique in its role as a central tenet as well as a peripheral consideration when the focus is on other aspects of the educational system. Even when we are focused on teacher salaries and class sizes, equity in education must be considered during all conversations. This goal is never really achieved and then settled, it is a constantly changing goal that increases as more baseline goals are met.
Culture and equity
While there is a cultural effect on education, it is important to remember that groups are an important study set, but it is only individuals that are able to truly think and grow. One must not get too caught up in the discussion of culture and how outward influences may affect education, as the results of the curriculum are always measured on an individual basis. This is not to say that culture does not play a part in the greater educational environment, it is just not the end of the discussion. All outcomes must be measured from student to student, not on the group as a whole.
With that said, it is also key to remember group progress and successes in the global curriculum of a school or state. But students are not a monolith, even if they are in the same classroom or from similar backgrounds. True educational equity considers each student as an individual. Yes, we do want to narrow the differences between educational access across different groups, but this segmentation must be done in an equitable manner. Even when we achieve equity in certain ways, there will remain inequity in others.
In The Hidden Wound, Wendell Berry writes:
It may be the most significant irony in our history that racism, by dividing the two races, has made them not separate but in a fundamental way inseparable, not independent but dependent on each other, incomplete without each other, each needing desperately to understand and make use of the experience of the other. . . we are one body, and the division between us is the disease of one body, not of two. This is both abstract and practical. We share both living space and social membership.
The challenge with this approach is the balance of recognizing the individual while also providing the same level of access to all students, no matter their ability.
What should we do?
- Provide a foundational curriculum that contains layers and nuances and is also achievable without dependence on access to the most up-to-date technological devices.
- Provide resources for family members who may speak English as a second language, or not at all.
It is important to consider individuality without allowing such considerations to create divisions. As adults, we often self-select a similar peer group based on our professional or economic status, educational background, and our ethnicity. In order to overcome such behaviors, it is important to provide access and equity to the entire educational group.
In its best form, equity will recognize each student at a truly granular level, while the school system itself will provide a framework and a support network. This allows the teacher to recognize the individual needs of each student and present them with an educational process that allows for their success. This goes far beyond the idea of getting each student to a certain reading level, or able to perform certain mathematical equations. Those types of benchmarks should be considered foundational.
Rebuilding equity in education
There are demographics to consider, and such considerations should be made. However, the use of gender, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status should only be used as a starting point. Demographics do play a role in the establishment of curricula, however, they are just one small part of an overarching construct. By forming an organic system that provides a safe space of learning for all individual students, equity in education can be achieved.
The future of education lies in the recognition of each student and providing them with the motivation necessary to learn. Rather than finding a way to “improve” testing types and standards, more success can be derived from increasing all students’ desire to learn. To truly reach a state of equity in education, it is key to foster an enthusiasm for learning that transcends testing and the achievement of certain skill levels.
This is perhaps one of the most fascinating discussions occurring in today’s educational environment, and we would love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments. Equity in education continues to evolve as we learn more about the strategies that are the most effective. What has your experience with equity in education been? Have you discovered strategies and practices that have given you a level of success and that you can share with fellow teachers? Are you experiencing a certain challenge that is causing you to question the attainment of equity in your classroom? Let’s further the discussion in the comment section below!