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Equity and Access in Education, Our Need to Think Bigger

Inequity in education remains a hot topic among stakeholders nationally, especially with the recent higher education scandal where wealthy families and well-known television personalities face federal charges of college entrance admission cheating. With figures from recent studies showing that children living in certain parts of the country are less likely to complete secondary education or be admitted to a university, and those from immigrant backgrounds or minority groups (including Native American Indians) are more likely to leave school earlier, something significant must be done.  It is clear there is a serious ongoing problem.

Many articles have been written offering solutions but the situation still exists. We need to go deeper.  We need to reevaluate the core of how our education system functions and is funded.

Here are four important ways to address the issue of equity in education, but let’s first define “equity.”

What is Equity in Education?

The dictionary defines equity as “fairness and impartiality based on the principles of even-handed dealing,” adding that it “involves giving as much consideration, latitude or advantage to one party as is given to the other(s).”

In the context of education, a more relevant definition is provided by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD): “A fair and inclusive system that makes advantages of education accessible to all.”

Equity vs. Equality

The unique differences between equity and equality often cause confusion. Many times they are incorrectly interchanged. While both equity and equality are cornerstones of social justice and fair resource allocation, they are significantly different.

According to the National Association for Multicultural Education, “equality is primarily concerned with treating people the same way or giving them equal access to resources and opportunities.”

Equity is a little different. With equity, focus is on ensuring that everyone receives what they need to be successful – even if it means being unequal across socioeconomic lines. According to the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), equity’s primary concern is “creating school cultures that recognize and value diversity.”

How to Achieve Equity in Education

The OECD lists 10 steps stakeholders can take to achieve equity in education. I've drawn from those steps and narrowed it down to four key areas.

  • Prioritize culturally responsive teaching

In her book: Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain, Zaretta Hammond writes that academic struggles are often attributed to a “culture of poverty” but the real reason for these struggles is the “failure to offer learners sufficient opportunities in the classroom to develop the skills and habits of mind needed to prepare them for more advanced academic tasks.”

Culturally responsive education, or as I call it, "cultural competence," focuses on elevating and expanding learning capacities of students who are traditionally marginalized in the education system, an approach that can go a long way in addressing common challenges associated with cultural incompetence. When we provide traditionally marginalized students with opportunities for high-level thinking, and we also provide all students with training to relate in positive ways with people of different cultural backgrounds, we’re training them to become competitive on the global stage.

  • Provide differentiated instruction, or “personalized learning”

Differentiated instruction essentially means identifying the needs of each student and providing the modalities for learning and challenges that fit those needs. In other words, school systems must provide facilities and environments that are conducive to personalized learning.  This will often mean a change from traditional classroom setups.  Moreover, teachers must plan learning experiences with every student’s needs, interests, styles, and preferences in mind. Just like John Taylor Gatto says in his book: Dumbing Us Down, the Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, “we need to invest in curricula where each child has the opportunity to develop personal uniqueness and self-reliance.”

Data is one tool that can be used in this area. Why? Because people sometimes have perceptions that do not reflect what is actually happening in the school community. Equity-related data can be researched to help educators prepare instruction that benefit all students.

  • Inform the allocation of resources

Stakeholders must also think about how resources, ranging from books provided in classrooms to student funding and school building design and setup, impact equity. Students from low-income families and those of color traditionally require more resources to level the playing field. Those with disabilities, meanwhile, require appropriate infrastructure to overcome their challenges. These groups benefit from additional funding. How we allocate these resources within the classroom, in the school district, and at the national level has a huge impact on educational outcomes.  Programs like Title 1 help us achieve equity, but professional development, which is currently being cut in many states and in the President’s most recent budget proposal, is also critical.

  • Provide and support school choice for all

Why shouldn't school choice be a fundamental right in a free society?  Moreover, having one's education be independent of government funding and therefore independent of potential modern-day indoctrination also seems like a desirable scenario. The idea of school choice, in theory, has great potential to provide equity and accessibility. The Model promotes greater individualized education and less of a sheep-herding approach.  The challenge for successful implementation is that additional barriers musts be recognized and overcome for this to truly be a “choice for all.” One simple example is transportation. Some families simply don’t have the resources to transport the child to and from a distant school. Resources must always be provided to offset this need in public education. As our society advances, we must double down on identifying and removing barriers so that every child is more readily able to reach her highest potential.   

Can diverting public funds to private institutions ultimately lead to equity, and isn't equity fundamental to our strength as a country, or as a species?  In my opinion, those funds should be invested in our public schools in order to provide greater equity in education. Further segregation through school choice--ultimately self-selection segregation--generally reduces diversity; if not done with equity and access in mind and deliberate action, this may ultimately hinder students’ abilities to function in a globalized world.

Key Takeaway

As Gatto writes; “It’s absurd and anti-life to be part of a system that forces you to sit in confinement with people from exactly the same age and social class. Such a system effectively cuts you off from life’s diversity and the associated synergy; indeed, it blocks you from your own past and future.” In the education system, addressing equity at more fundamental and deeper levels is the only solution to this problem.

News & Events:

Britannica “Stand Out” Awards Entry Extended Until April 1st

I am honored to be a judge for Britannica’s first ever “Stand-Out” awards.  We want to hear about the character of students and educators, like you, who have exemplified extraordinary and inspiring characteristics that have helped to make an impact on students and classrooms. There are cash prizes for both students and teachers. Check out the following link to learn more: https://britannicalearn.com/awards/

 

Thoughts from my recent keynote for the Shoshone-Bannock tribe and the Northwest Indian Youth Summit

Lots of thoughts go through my mind.  Young people from Native American groups indigenous to the North American continent suffer from many of the same epidemics that the rest of society suffers from: opioid addiction, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, technology addiction, and so on. On top of that, they face significant racism that is on par with most immigrant populations. Yet ironically, they are not immigrants; they are native to this part of the world.

That brings me to the current discussion about building a wall along the southern border of the United States. I can't help but wonder: if we were to turn back the clock hundreds of years but with the indigenous population having the experience that they have now, would they have built a wall to keep out illegal immigrants (whom we now call "citizens") who stole their land and committed crimes and murders against them?

And then there is the issue of integration: how can the native population celebrate and share their cultures without the majority attempting to silence it?  For example, how alienating it must be that some of the first school year holidays include Columbus Day and Thanksgiving. How do we become more culturally competent in the United States so that we can truly embrace the original founders of our land and make their many heritages something that every student will know more about, appreciate, and celebrate?

April 5th, 2019: Mississippi Association of School Administrators Conference, Biloxi MS

Mississippi’s economy is ranked 49th in the U.S. To help educators and administrators elevate the national standard of education and work toward equity in education, it is as important for me to learn as much from those in Mississippi as I hope they will learn from me. For this reason, I will arrive a day early to listen as state and local leadership address the challenges facing education in their state.  This will help inform my closing keynote on April 5, 2019.