equity in education

Stop! Why the mis-definition of student equity needs to end

A new look at barriers to students getting the resources they need to succeed starts with defining equity versus equality.

“Equity doesn’t mean the same for everyone; it means that everyone gets what they need.” These wise words, from a Florida elementary school principal, get to the core of a new look at barriers to equity in education.

Teachers and principals surveyed in a new Scholastic Education report universally agree that equity in education for all children should be a national priority.

Educators noted that equity in education is not the same as equality–students should have equal access to high-quality teachers and learning resources, but equality means each student has the same support necessary to achieve success.

“There needs to be an understanding that equity doesn’t mean the same for everyone. Some families need a higher level of support and resources to participate equally in educational success,” said a middle school teacher in Colorado who participated in the survey.

(Next page: A new way to think about barriers to equity in education)

Barriers Start at Home

According to the Scholastic report, 87 percent of the 4,700 educators responding to the survey said their students face barriers to learning that come from outside the school environment.

Principals from all levels of school poverty said students are experiencing a family or personal crisis (95 percent), need mental health services (91 percent), live in poverty (90 percent), come to school hungry (85 percent), and need healthcare services (82 percent)–all of which can prevent learning.

Eighty-three percent of teachers and principals said at least one item included in the survey is not adequately available for students.

When it comes to out-of-school resources, internet access, safe and secure home environments, basic needs such as housing and food, and family access to healthcare are all barriers to equity in education.

At-home access to books is also a problem. 96 percent of responding educators said they believe providing year-round access to books at home for students is important when it comes to enhancing student achievement. 91 percent said schools play an important role in expanding access to books at home.

Barriers at School

In school, specialists to address students’ social and emotional needs, programming that includes the arts and foreign languages, high-quality instructional materials, and manageable class sizes are considered equity barriers by teachers and principals.

Resources that help alleviate some of these equity barriers are unevenly distributed. Often, this is based on poverty.

Ninety-four percent of educators in high-poverty schools say at least one basic resource or item is not adequately available. In low-poverty schools, that drops to 62 percent, which is still a significant number.

Sixty-five percent of educators in high-poverty schools report a lack of adequate access to internet or other learning resources in students’ homes, compared with 20 percent of educators in low-poverty schools. Sixty-eight percent of educators in high-poverty schools said low family involvement in student learning is a barrier, compared to just 18 percent of educators in low-poverty schools.

Teacher retention is another barrier affecting equity in education.

Barriers in Funding

The report also examines educators’ funding priorities. Responding teachers and principals said they use their own money to fill resource gaps for the classroom, including purchasing books or technology, as well as to meet the personal needs of students, such as clothes and food.

On average in the past year, teachers spent $530 of their own money on items for classroom or student use, with teachers in high-poverty schools spending an average $672 and teachers in low-poverty schools spending an average of $495; principals spent $683, with those in high-poverty schools spending $1,014 and in low-poverty schools spending $514.

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Laura Ascione

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