In education, equity is a multi facet-concept. Educational equity is dependent on three main factors: 1) access, 2) high standards and expectations, and 3) resources. This article clarifies each of these factors in order to understand the equity debate in education.
Factor One: Access
The goal of educational access is to ensure all individuals have the ability to take advantage of educational opportunities, regardless of their social class, gender, ethnic background or physical and mental disabilities. Educational advocates made this a national issue because some school districts were implementing policies or classroom-based strategies that prevented students from achieving academic success.
An example of such policy or strategy is a “two-track system.” This is when a school site will provide its white and Asian males with the best learning opportunities such as access to advanced placement courses, dual enrollment, or STEM programs. While only offering its female and/or black and Latino population access to only general coursework, limiting their entry to STEM programs, and/or denying them entry to any enrichment educational opportunities.
To combat these policies or strategies, educational advocates have encouraged school districts to implement two key strategies 1) a school choice option and/or 2) a career academies program approach. The school choice option allows parents and students enroll in a school that meets their educational needs or interests. They can choose from a public, private, charter or an online school option.
Educational access has somewhat improved. Schools have made huge strives when resources are available to include and offer diverse student population, educational opportunities (i.e., STEM programs). However, there are still many students in underserved and working-class communities that lack access to rigorous course offerings and enrichment programs.
Factor Two: High Standards and Expectations
It is expected that all school systems will make every effort to set the same high educational standards for all learners. Educational research has revealed that school districts that do not hold all students to high standards and expectations effectively denies them the opportunity to develop the requisite skills need to acquire a job or earn a postsecondary diploma or certificate.
Prior to 2002, this was a common practice among certain K-12 systems. It was perfectly acceptable for some students to only receive the minimum standard of education to earn a high school diploma. Many of these students graduated with low-level literacy and numeracy skills.
This practice led to the development of the NCLB Act (2002) and the Common Core State Standards Movement (2009). Both these reform efforts were created to improve educational achievement, raise educational standards, and create conditions for high academic expectations for all children, especially for students from lower income families. As a result of these reforms, districts are now accountable to make sure all students receive a high quality education and are graduating with the requisite skills.
Even though school systems are more accountable, academic achievement is not there yet. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, many of schools 2014’s ‘proficiency’ rates were below 50 percent for every racial and ethnic group.
Factor Three: Resources
All K-12 systems are required to equip each school site with the basic resources to help students achieve academically. These resources may include up to date instructional materials, a safe school building, functioning technology hardware and software, and high-quality teachers and staff members.
Educational resources are funded by federal, state, and local sources (i.e. Property tax). Because property taxes have traditionally been a large source of funding for schools, wealthy districts can spend more on education resources, while low income or working class communities can only spend for the bare necessities.
Education advocates are concerned that unequal distribution of resources will impact the quality of education received by low-income and working class students. To equalize educational resources across the nation, K-12 advocates are encouraging States to change their funding formula to level the educational playing field between districts.
Motivation to Improve Fairness
Advocates, policymakers, and parents are motivated to dismantle inequities in education because more than ever before, a student’s level of education is directly correlated to his or her economic viability.
And, our 21st-century high-tech society requires a future workforce with employability skills. This means that all our nation’s schools must equitably educate all students, so that they have equal opportunities to compete in the labor market in the United States and globally.