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There is a common misconception that equity and equality mean the same thing — and that they can be used interchangeably, especially when talking about education. But the truth is they do not — and cannot. Yes, the two words are similar, but the difference between them is crucial. So please, don’t talk about equality when you really mean equity.

What’s the difference?

Should per student funding at every school be exactly the same? That’s a question of equality. But should students who come from less get more in order to ensure that they can catch up? That’s a question of equity.

equity

Credit: United Way of the Columbia-Willamette

Yes, making sure all students have equal access to resources is an important goal. All students should have the resources necessary for a high-quality education. But the truth remains that some students need more to get there.

Here’s where equity comes in. The students who are furthest behind — most often low-income students and students of color — require more of those resources to catch up, succeed, and eventually, close the achievement gap. Giving students who come to school lagging academically (because of factors outside of a school’s control) the exact same resources as students in higher income schools alone will not close the achievement gap. But making sure that low-income students and students of color have access to exceptional teachers and that their schools have the funding to provide them with the kind of high-quality education they need to succeed will continue us on the path toward narrowing that gap.

Equality has become synonymous with “leveling the playing field.” So let’s make equity synonymous with “more for those who need it.”

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