What is Equity and Why is it Important?

By JoAnn Snavely

We’ve all seen that photo, you know the one. The photo at the baseball field with the fence. This photo that has been used as the placeholder for any slideshow you’ve seen discussing the question: what is equity? Equity is a very important issue that needs to be addressed in the public school system and society in general. Especially in the COVID-19 crisis the country is facing, it is especially critical to balance equity with the resources available to give all students a chance for success. 

EQUITY VS EQUALITY

When you hear the word “equity” what’s the first thing that comes to mind? If you answered “equality” don’t worry, so did I. Why do we associate the two words even though they are two very different things? Well, for starters, both words have the Latin root “equ” in the beginning of the word. This Latin root means equal, you see it with many different examples like equator, equanimity, adequate etc. Even though these words vary in meaning, that one root word brings them back to one common denominator- equal. This same concept applies when you compare equality vs. equity, they both mean equal in one way or another, but don’t be fooled they are two very different extremes in the mastery of equal resources.

 Equality is giving everyone the same treatment and resources to succeed at whatever is being achieved, which sounds like a flawless plan right? Wrong, just because everyone has the resources to succeed and no one is getting special treatment doesn’t mean everyone can succeed– there will always be someone who will struggle to hit the mark of success. That is what equity works towards, equity focuses on taking equality and asking “how do we ensure EVERYONE succeeds?” Because even though you may have the same resources as the next student, it’s more important that you worry about whether or not every student will be able to achieve the same goal. When that question is being brought to light, then extra resources and extra help that some students may not need to succeed can’t be marked off because there will be others who can not succeed without the extra resources. This bridges a gap between equity and equality because is it fair that some are getting extra resources to succeed and others aren’t?  Is it fair for others to not succeed because they can’t succeed because there isn’t enough resources? This leads to a vicious cycle of what’s right and wrong. However, at the end of the day it is more important that everyone is given the opportunity to succeed, even if it takes different resources to achieve it.

It’s no secret that everyone has different learning styles. So, just because I am a visual learner that doesn’t mean every other student learns that way and will succeed with resources tailored to visual learners. This works the same way as if a student was a physical learner, or an aural learner, any learning style has specific ways of learning and not every student can succeed with certain styles. So imagine all students are being taught the same information with a visual learning style, there would be students who would excel in their studies because their work is being tailored to their style, but those with different learning styles would ultimately fall behind because their learning style wouldn’t be recognised. This is when equality falls short in the classrooms. Even though all students are being taught the same things with the same methods, only certain students can excel with specific ways of learning. However, equity focuses on taking equality to the next level. Instead of just taking this idea of giving every student the exact same resources, it focuses on taking those students who will not succeed in their education because of learning disabilities, not being taught in a adequate way, or simply misunderstandings and giving them extra resources such as free tutors, extra help, or anything else to help those students succeed as well. This will help ensure that every student actually has everything they need to succeed in the classroom.

This is not the only factor that affects student success. There are many things that factor into how students’ educations are impacted. Some of these factors are socioeconomic status, mental health, and–now that school has turned online–that physical factor has been stripped from some students who need it the most and replaced by a visual barrier. This takes many of the strains of in-person learning and replaces them with network issues, technical issues, some students not having access to the technology necessary, and those physical learners having their learning style taken from them. This sets some students up to fail if not given that extra help they desperately need, and the school system has done a good job at trying to develop a system to help those students by providing them with all the necessary resources. 

You can see this cycle forming already, that is because there will always be a student who struggles to get ahead and is left behind, but it is our job to give every student the resources to succeed. In this situation, equality simply is insufficient; thus, equity needs to be brought into play to ensure everyone’s success.

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