One of the most common questions that educators ask with regard to equity is this: What does equity mean?
Equity has been defined both in really broad terms (e.g., “giving every student what they need to succeed”) and using narrower conceptions (e.g., “ensuring that students have access to rigorous content and academic opportunities”).
As with every definition, there are nuances — particularly with something as dynamic and far-reaching as the concept of equitable school environments. The answers lie at both ends of the spectrum AND somewhere in the middle.
We define equity as the elimination of the predictability of success or failure by any social or cultural factor AND the dismantling of inequitable practices and policies. See a more in-depth definition below.
Working toward equity in education starts with the belief that all children are entitled to an education rooted in justice, free of racist and gender-exclusive practices and policies, as well as inaccurate historical depictions. Furthermore, educators and school and district leaders should strive for high levels of consciousness around racial literacy, gender equality, ableist practices, and actions that disenfranchise students who have minimal economic and social resources. Achieving high levels of consciousness around equitable practices is not easy, but in order to fulfill the promise of a free and public education, we must meet this challenge. Working toward equity also involves identifying goals, engaging in constant practice, implementing changes, and measuring outcomes.
The concept of public education is a radical idea. Every state in the union individually — and the federal government collectively — has committed to providing a free, public education to every child. This commitment comes with the responsibility to ensure that every child has access to a physically and psychologically safe learning environment, excellent instruction from well-prepared teachers, as well as rigorous content and resources that support their learning.
The data have proved over and over that optimal learning environments are not currently accessible to every child. Thus, we must look at working toward equity as both an opportunity and a challenge.
The opportunity of working towards equity lies in America’s promise to fulfill the educational and psychological needs of every child at every public school institution. When adults create classroom spaces that are inclusive, where students feel a true sense of belonging and have access to instruction and content that are culturally responsive, those students can imagine a world that values their identities, regardless of race, gender identity, ability status, and socioeconomic status.
The challenge of ensuring equity lies in the fact that on the whole, schools do not meet the needs of all children. Qualitative and quantitative data support the claim that students from historically marginalized populations (Black, Latinx, and Indigenous students, as well as students with special needs and students with minimal or no economic resources) many times attend schools that have not adequately met their educational needs. Thus, meeting the challenge of ensuring equity for these students and others requires active, ongoing self-reflection, as well as a commitment to dismantling inequitable practices and policies, providing access to rigorous content, delivering culturally responsive instruction, and ensuring opportunities for all children. All of these things need to be accomplished at the level of the instructor, school leader, and district leader.
Learning environments that are built around equitable principles have the potential to positively impact students inside and outside of classrooms. Educators, administrators, and board members that are committed to equity have the ability to build equitable schools. Schools with a clear commitment to ensuring equity can be the catalyst to change the educational system as a whole, so that student outcomes can no longer be predicted based on race, gender, socioeconomics, ability, or any other sociocultural factor.