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Equity in Education

Providing equal access to resources for every student may seem to be the solution to the achievement gap. However, while equality is important, it would assume that different individuals would benefit from the same help – which we know is not true. Researchers have found educational equality is simply not enough; each student has different needs that ought to be identified and met by educators. Thus, equity is the ultimate goal for academic endeavors. Here we explain what equity is, why it is important in education, how to overcome barriers and promote equity in education, and what Educate. Radiate. Elevate. is doing to provide equitable education support to underserved students. 

What is the Difference Between Equality and Equity? 

While the terms “equality” and “equity” might sound comparable, the execution of one versus the other can prompt vastly different results. Equality in education is the arrangement of equal resources and opportunities for everyone, disregarding one’s unique traits and experiences. Even though equality is the foundation of fairness, it often leaves many people behind. In contrast, equitable teaching weighs each student’s identity, needs, and background to create a specialized approach with more successful outcomes for all. While equality seems to aim for an equal outcome for all students, equity is what actually has been shown to assure that all children have the opportunity to succeed. 

What is Equity and Why is it Important in Education? 

Even though equity in education is a complex topic, the goal of educational equity can be addressed first and foremost by providing personalized support to students. Teaching every student in the same way usually does not lead to high rates of individual success. For instance, requiring all students to read computer books to learn about computers may not be effective if any students’ learning style is kinesthetic/tactile. Different learning styles affect how students think and process information and thus should be part of the curriculum planning process. Kinesthetic learners learn by doing. Auditory learners retain new material faster through lectures and music. Reading and writing learners enjoy writing and presenting. Visual learners may rely on graphs and other visual cues to draw exciting insight. Learn more in our blog about the Four Learning Styles. One goal of equitable education is to provide students with individualized methodologies and resources that match their learning styles. 

Equitable access also addresses the problem of financial insecurity. For many students, higher education can provide economic and social mobility. Sadly, college degrees are still just a dream for a population of students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Committing to the goal of equity, federal institutions have created various financial aid programs, such as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), to assist students from low-income families in attaining access to funding for higher education. For many students, completing the FAFSA application is the first step in this direction. However, most students tend to get lost and are easily discouraged during the FAFSA process. Instead, these students chose to enter the job market early before being adequately educated. Thus schools and communities ought to assist in navigating the complex and often novel college and financial aid process. For instance, alumni can serve as mentors to guide the students and their families through the FAFSA, scholarship, and college applications. This example of an equitable, personalized approach geared toward certain students’ specific needs can have major impacts on those students’ available opportunities and outcomes. 

 Barriers to Educational Equity

Poverty can cause prolonged physical, emotional, and mental stress. According to the National Library of Medicine, students from financially-challenged backgrounds tend to fall behind their peers academically. Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s research shows that students from low-income families show deficient performance in multiple testing categories in the standardized tests, including reading, math, and writing. This tends to deplete students’ self-esteem, which often discourages them from taking learning risks, asking questions, and being open to new educational experiences. Additionally, children from families of low socioeconomic status may not have their basic needs met. Thus, traditional education would not be at the top of their priorities; rather, securing necessities like food and shelter are. Education Equity Institute suggests almost two out of three kids are naturally introduced into the bottom fifth of the income distribution and remain in the last two-fifths of the income distribution as they grow up. This means that students born into poverty would likely remain financially insecure as adults. Therefore, poverty is one of the top equity barriers to overcome.

Access to learning supports for youth is currently not equitable. Children are naturally curious, making them enthusiastic about exploring new ideas and learning novel information. National Academy Of Sciences’ study shows that childhood education is the foundation for future success in adulthood. Unfortunately, youth who lack access to high-quality education supports, like technology and tutoring, are often discouraged and unengaged. For instance, a student who does not have access to reliable internet may struggle to complete assignments. Or an ESL student enrolled in challenging courses may acquire a low grade because of language barriers and lack of assistance outside of the school setting. Hurdles like these deplete the natural energy and creativity that every child possesses. Thus, equitable access to quality technology and tutoring is essential to help students remain active learners. 

Failure to identify and address students’ mental health concerns early is another barrier to achieving educational equity. For many students, their identity is defined by the events they experience during childhood. If the children were made to believe that they are unintelligent and/or incapable, they could grow to believe that this is true. Additionally, when students experience continuous extreme negative emotions during childhood, their stress can lead to persistent difficulties and diseases. According to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, negative experiences during early adolescence cause the most costly chronic diseases in modern society, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and depression. These diseases combined cost annual U.S Health Care $640 billion. Equity is the solution to this tragic problem. By providing students with specialized care and support, students will have the chance to grow academically and emotionally. Learn more about these and other mental health concerns in our blog about Monitoring Our Students’ Mental Health.

How to Promote Equity in Education

It is essential to promote an inclusive learning environment on a daily basis. From day one, teachers should set the expectation that any sign of discrimination, personal attack, and hostile behavior will not be tolerated. Teachers ought to also teach active listening and conflict resolution strategies so that students are primed to respectfully voice their opinions and learn from each other. Additionally, teachers should encourage peer-to-peer learning by creating situations in which students can actively interact with other classmates. This will foster bonds between students of different learning abilities and backgrounds. Furthermore, students of all races, cultures, and income levels should be made to feel safe and comfortable in their learning environments. Teachers can facilitate this by giving students the opportunity to share and celebrate their backgrounds with their peers, perhaps through writing assignments or projects. Inclusivity and acceptance are key to an equitable learning environment.

Utilizing advanced educational technology can foster equity in schools by eliminating several educational barriers. Computers and tablets with access to stable wifi connections and educational software can provide more personalized and compelling learning experiences. For instance, learning apps use artificial intelligence to monitor a student’s levels of mastery, shaping the lessons to the student’s specific needs with minimal effort for differentiation by the teacher. Additionally, gamified learning platforms tend to make learning more interactive and engaging, and current advancements in Edtech are designed to stimulate various learning types. Educators can access a wealth of multiple online resources to share with their students, matching their specific interests, learning style, and other needs. Students can stay connected with teachers even outside of the classroom through interactive communication channels such as email and discussion boards. Thus, providing students with equitable access to technology can tremendously improve their learning curves. 

Creating and funding special programs to address the needs of underserved students results in more equitable outcomes. For instance, Educate. Radiate. Elevate is a local nonprofit that provides high-quality, personalized tutoring to assist low-income students of color with academics and soft skills. This gives students with societal and economic barriers access to additional learning support, helping to close the achievement gap and allowing for more equitable opportunities beyond school. More funding ought to be directed toward these types of proactive intervention programs for at-risk youth. If you are interested in donating to E.R.E.’s programs, please view our options here.

In Conclusion

Educational equity is a long-term goal that not only requires time and effort on behalf of educators but also involves the combined efforts of peers, the community, government, and families. This should not discourage school leaders but rather inform them that equity in the classroom is achievable. Organizations like Educate. Radiate. Elevate. are an extension of support to help schools provide a more equitable education to their students. E.R.E.’s mission is to minimize the disproportionate learning losses for low-income students of color to provide economic, social, and emotional stability for the youth served, their families, and their community. With the proper support specialized to each individual, every student can have the chance to grow and succeed in their own unique way. Please check out our Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Linkedin pages for more exciting information related to equity and education. If you are interested in supporting our mission of bridging the achievement gap, become a donor or a partner! People like you help E.R.E. achieve its mission of uplifting our most vulnerable youth.

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"Hi, I'm Lindsey.
Every other month, I share short emails full of hopeful stories, updates on your impact, and relevant news. Thousands of people enjoy them."
Lindsey Wander
Founder and President