Society has a moral obligation to make sure that all children receive an adequate education that gives them the skills needed to become contributing adults in society. This is also in society’s best interest as it is a social waste if some children do not receive a good education. It means that human talents that could contribute to society are not nurtured. All students have talents that grow through formal learning. By failing to develop those talents, society loses opportunities for enrichment and progress. Further social waste is gained by the long-term social and financial costs of poor education. Inadequate education leads to large public and social costs in the form of lower income and poor economic growth, reduced tax revenues, and higher costs of health care, social security, and increased crime.
Educational equity is the study and achievement of fairness, justice, and impartiality (equality) in education. The term equity means accommodating and meeting the specific needs of specific individuals. This means ensuring that everyone’s learning needs are met. Educational equity is based on the principles of fairness in distributing resources, opportunities, treatment, and success for every student.
True equity means that differences in educational outcomes are not the result of differences in wealth, income, power or possessions. The significance of this idea is that the quality of education received by each child should not be dependent on the level of wealth and education of his or her family. This is to say that if a child fails in school, it is not because they were poor or had less opportunities for success than their peers. Furthermore, this means that a child’s social, racial or geographic background is irrelevant to the education they should receive. Students are different in terms of what they need to reach any level of achievement. Some students have different needs than others because they may come from a disadvantaged social environment or because they have special educational needs. Simply put, nothing should hold a child back from opportunities to pursue their talents and passions. Everyone deserves the same education.
There are many variables that determine whether students are being given the same opportunities. There can be inequalities of resources (textbooks, qualified teachers), and, in particular, inequalities tied to social class. Another is to determine whether a student has equal access; this traditionally means impartiality in opportunity and usually applies to physical or legal barriers. Equal access guarantees that every student has an equal opportunity to participate in all aspects of the educational process, including learning facilities (schools, classrooms, and labs), resources, and extracurricular and curricular programs. This then leads to equal educational opportunities which is providing the same resources, opportunities, and treatment for each student. Equality is treating everyone the same. Equity means every student’s needs are met so that they giving the same opportunity to succeed.
So, what does educational equity look like in America? Unfortunately, we have a big problem with education inequity. Many children in America are deprived of the opportunity to receive a fair and high quality education. For example, in 2012, the U.S. Department of Education released new information showing that minority children face harsher discipline, have less access to demanding course offerings, and are more likely to be taught by lower paid and less experienced teachers.
Inequities in funding and educational resources place poor children (often those who need the most assistance) in low-performing schools with run-down facilities and often ineffective teachers. Most schools use outdated practices such as out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, and one-size-fits-all zero tolerance policies that do not adapt to the circumstances of each child and their needs. This continues to contribute to the discouragement, detachment, and eventual dropout of far too many students which only hurt us as a whole. We need everyone’s talents to create a competitive workforce which in turn creates innovative progress in our society. Public education in America was created to be “the great equalizer;” instead it is neglecting students in poverty and restricting their lives by the vicious cycle of school dropouts, arrests, and incarceration. The struggle to make sure a quality education is available to every child — and not just a privilege for a few — is one of the most critical matters for our country, and it unfortunately is not getting much traction. This is dangerous as America’s place on the global stage is already dropping and the world is rapidly changing. The US currently ranks 17th in the world in educational performance and we rank 54th in education expenditures or how much we spend on public education.
Minority students were also at a disadvantage in access to advanced academic opportunities. 55% of the high schools surveyed with a small number of minorities offer calculus but only 29% of high schools with a large number of minorities do. Similarly, 82% of low-minority schools offer Algebra II compared to 65% of the high-minority schools. 44% of the students surveyed were Black and Hispanic students but only 26% of students in gifted and talented programs were Black and Hispanic. However, these students were overrepresented when it came to repeating a grade. Across all grades, Black students were nearly three times as likely and Hispanic students were twice as likely as White students to be held back.
Teacher experience and salaries vary widely. In schools with the highest Black and Hispanic enrollment, 15% of teachers were in their first or second year compared with 8% of teachers in low-minority schools. Teachers in high-minority elementary schools were also paid on average $2,251 less a year than their colleagues in low-minority schools in the same district. This highlights a major issue in American public schools. Schools are no longer differing by school districts nor is it urban schools versus suburban. Many times, there are schools being treated vastly different from their counterparts in the same district.
So what can be done to fight these inequities? Organizations like the Annie E. Casey Foundation are working to find answers and solutions. The achievement gap is what separates economically disadvantaged students as well as minority students from less disadvantaged pupils. Many organizations, including the Annie E. Casey Foundation, are working to close that gap as a way to achieve education equity. The Foundation realizes this by supporting quality school choices and strong connections between schools, families, and communities. Unfortunately, we tend to take these types of connections for granted, but they do not exist in disinvested neighborhoods the way that they do in more affluent communities. Many of these underprivileged students just need mentors to help guide them in school and in life choices. You could volunteer at places such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys and Girls Clubs, and the YMCA to serve as a positive role model and mentor to students. Students can succeed with the proper education, a strong support system, and a well-funded school with invested teachers. Call up your local congressperson and tell them that you support better school funding or attend your local school board meetings and make sure your voice is heard.