Equity vs. Equality: The Great Debate

By Natasha Coleman

The debate between equity and equality has placed itself as the basis of so many issues and problem-oriented conversations, that the picture above represents them all. Equity is the ability to have equal access to equal opportunities.

When looking at this through an education lens, we have to consider a number of factors. For one, equality means giving all students the same things, same instruction, and hoping they will all learn the same way with similar outcomes. The problem with that thinking is we know not all students are the same and they need different supports to learn. This is why we need equity in education.

Equity in education refers to the principles of fairness.

In order to achieve equity, we have to start with where students currently are, from where they come, and to what they have access. Teachers have to be equipped with the necessary resources to meet students where they are to be able to differentiate for their students.

The bigger issue is equity for African American students and in particular low-income African American students. Fifty years ago, the Kerner Report was published which detailed the inequities among blacks and whites and the extreme rates of poverty. Five decades later, the Eisenhower Foundation commissioned a report. “Healing Our Divided Society: Investing in America Fifty Years After the Kerner Report.” This report blames policymakers and elected officials in our country saying they are not doing enough to heed the warning on deepening poverty and inequality that was highlighted by the Kerner Commission.

I agree with them.

The new report lists areas where our country has seen “a lack of or reversal of progress,” including:

  • The percentage of people leaving in “deep poverty” – less than half of the federal poverty level – has increased 16% since 1975.
  • The home ownership gap has widened for African Americans. Although three decades after the passing of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, black home ownership rose by almost 6 percentage points. However, those gains were wiped out from 2000 to 2015 when black homeownership fell 6 percentage points mainly due to the disproportionate effect that the subprime mortgage lending crisis had on African American families.
  • In addition, gains to end school segregation were reversed because of a lack of court oversight which allowed school districts to move away from desegregation plans and housing discrimination, which forced black and Latino families to move to largely minority neighborhoods. For example, in 1988, about 44% of black students went to majority-white schools nationally. According to the report, only 20% of black students do so today.

The result of these gaps means that people of color and those struggling with poverty are confined to poor areas with inadequate housing, underfunded schools and law enforcement that views those residents with suspicion, the report said.

I believe to truly reach equity in all areas is a hard task but it is definitely a conversation that needs to continue so that all students have the same opportunity to be successful no matter their race or their socio-economic status.