Equity vs Equality

We keep dipping into this discussion, so let's dive into it.

I hear and read people using the words "Equitable" or "Equity" as if they were synonymous with "Equal" and "Equality". I continue to see these words used as if they were interchangeable. They are not synonyms. They are not interchangeable. They are, in fact, opposites.

Equality means providing each with the same.

Equity is providing each with what they need or deserve.

Since everyone needs or deserves something different, equity means providing each with something different, which is the opposite of providing each with the same.

Sometimes our goal is equality and sometimes our goal is equity. It is important that we know which we are working towards. Equal is an appropriate goal when things are standardized. Equity is the appropriate goal when we are presented with a diverse set of circumstances.

Sometimes it's a matter of perception. When you mow the lawn you cut a different amount off of each blade of grass (equity in the amount cut) to make them all the same height (equality in the amount left). Here's another example: All workers get paid $10 for each widget they produce. That's equal. Worker A produces 20 widgets and is paid $200. Worker B produces 30 widgets and is paid $300. That's equitable.

Since education is such a personal thing and student needs are driven by such a mind-boggling array of different influences, there is almost no way that, when it comes to education, equal will ever be equitable or, in many cases, desirable.

When students with disabilities are in class sizes of six while their typically developing peers are in class sizes of thirty, that is certainly not equal, but it may be equitable.

When students working beyond Standards get lessons that include elements from the grade level above their current grade level, and this instruction is not offered to their age peers working at grade level, that is not equal, but it is equitable.

Until we come to a shared perspective on the difference between equality and equity we cannot come together and advocate for each other. Until then we are each on our own and must struggle against each other for a share of a finite resource.

I think it's easy for people to see what their child needs and advocate for it. For that advocacy to have moral standing, however, it is necessary to also advocate for what other children need. This advocacy for other children must extend to include services which are not only different from what your child needs but might, at some time and in some way, require a compromise in meeting your child's needs completely.

Finally, even if we were to desire it, we simply can never achieve equality in education. Schools offer different programs, so schools will never be equal. Teachers are all different, so classrooms will never be equal. Teachers do not allocate their time with students with a stopwatch, so each child's experience can never be equal. Not only is equality not a desirable goal, it is not an attainable goal.

In a previous thread a commenter wrote:

"1. We are going to dramatically reduce class sizes in schools with high concentrations of students from historically underperforming groups. The goal is a maximum class size of 17." 
It seems like you are advocating for "separate and not equal" systems and you will decided by your criteria who will get the betterment. 
To this commenter, I answer: "Yes. That is precisely what I am advocating."

Equal is not the goal; equity is the goal. So it doesn't matter if it isn't equal. Why in the world would we expect anything in education to be equal when the students arrive at the classroom with such a diverse set of knowledge and skills? Why in the world should all students get the same lesson whether it's the right lesson for them or not? Why in the world should all students get the same class size when some need smaller classes and some can do well with larger classes of students with less critical needs?


This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said…
"It seems like you are advocating for "separate and not equal" systems and you will decided by your criteria who will get the betterment.

To this commenter, I answer: "Yes. That is precisely what I am advocating."

There already exist numerous laws, some federal and some state. These laws direct LEDs to provide individualized education to various groups. LEDs typicality ignore compliance or build a thin facade of compliance in serving these marginalized groups.

Now it appears some in SPS want to follow LEV and LWV leads and present BLACK males as the latest poster child for equity in SPS. Do we need another "more worthy" group to serve to further dilute our districts overall effectiveness?

I believe the proponents of a new educational approach for only "BLACK males" want to incorporate the BLACK male culture into the system in order to decriminalize it.

So, are we going to have two legal systems along with two educational systems. I think our teachers are already confused in incorporating all the existing "special PC rules" and this will be the proverbial "straw" that will send many of our teachers out the door.

Before we entertain this proposal, I think we need to first answer, "what is the BLACK male culture"? then we can we explore the creation of a whole new separate educational system to support it.


Anonymous said…
Thanks for the equity / equal, I learned something new. As for the definition of equitable, it says impartial, unbiased, and objective. With that I would disagree. To achieve a condition of equity, measuring the deficits which need extra resources will always be subjective.

Anonymous said…
Charlie, thank you for a very well-thought-out article about equity and equality.

PK, please don't take these efforts in the wrong way. I don't think anyone is advocating for a certain culture in SPS. However, they are focusing on an easily-defined group that, as a whole, is at increased risk for bad educational outcomes and even dropping out. Reaching out to this at-risk group (black males) is a way to intervene and help them achieve their potential, as we want for all our students.

I agree that we shouldn't limit special interventions to one race and gender, but sometimes you need to start with one group and then extend the intervention out to other at-risk groups and individual students.

Equity will be served if students who are most at risk of bad outcomes receive appropriate interventions. Sometimes you can't reach out to everyone at risk at the beginning, but it should be the district's goal to expand their outreach to other at-risk groups ASAP.


Charlie Mas said…
PK, I would like to understand your comment, but I cannot.

What are LED's? I'm pretty sure you don't mean light emitting diodes.

By LEV do you mean the League of Education Voters? Is LWV the League of Women Voters?

Is there a reason to capitalize the word BLACK or is that also an abbreviation?

Can you tell me what other "more worthy" groups are served by Seattle Public Schools? Who coined the expression "more worthy"? You put it in quotes, so whom are you quoting? Does this expression appear in any district documents?

How does service to "more worthy" groups dilute our district's overall effectiveness? How are you measuring that effectiveness?

I'm also confused by your references to "the proponents of a new educational approach for 'BLACK males'". Who are these proponents? What new educational approach are they proposing? What's the old educational approach? Why is the word BLACK in all capitals and why did you put quotation marks around "BLACK males"? Whom are you quoting? Why didn't BLACK male go in quotes in the next sentence?

What is the BLACK male culture? Is it currently criminalized? What system is it not currently incorporated into? Into which system do these proponents want to incorporate it?

I'm not aware that Seattle Public Schools operates any type of legal system, so who is it that will be operating two of them? Why are two required?

Why are two educational systems required?

What "special PC rules" do teachers have? This is, again, in quotes. Whom are you quoting? What teachers would rather quit than treat people with respect? Who among them are being driven out the door by "special PC rules"?

What proposal do you think anyone is being asked to entertain? And if you don't know what the BLACK (again, why the capital letters?) male culture is, then what makes you think that people want to incorporate it into the system (what system?) and decriminalize it? Why does it need a separate educational system?

Honestly, your comment is just entirely too cryptic to be understood. Could you please re-write it more plainly? I'm confident that you have something of value to contribute, but I can't for the life of me figure out what it is.
Charlie Mas said…

When you write: "As for the definition of equitable, it says impartial, unbiased, and objective.", what is "it"?
Anonymous said…
"They are, in fact, opposites."

maybe you need to look up the definition of opposite.

Equity, to put it simply, means fairness, whereas equality means the same.

So it's fair to pay more in public funds to those who need more services and not fair to provide extra service to those who do not need it.

Equal would mean the same service for all, most people would agree that is not equitable.

I guess the question is if a hypothetical average student was given the extra of small class size or a more homogeneous classroom, would not they benefit as do black males and kids in HCC? In other words, extras help all kids, so who gets them?


Jan said…
Socrates asked: "In other words, extras help all kids, so who gets them?"

I must be missing something here -- I cannot figure out why this is hard for me (at least in the abstract). The kids who need them most -- whose lives would be most blighted without them -- get them.

That is where the easy part stops, because there are many judgment calls to be made from that point. Example: if I had 3 kids, 2 of whom had regular feet and legs, and one of whom had a physical problem that meant that child would never walk unless I spent 50 thousand on braces, and 10 thousand on special shoes (at which point, the child would be fully ambulatory, though maybe never great at things like soccer or track and field)-- and I had only $100,000 -- what would I do? Clearly, I would spend the 55K. I wouldn't deny that kid special orthotic shoes that cost $10000 over his lifetime just because I don't spend $10,000 on shoes for each of the two others. Nor would I deprive the child of life changing surgery just because I don't have $60 grand to drop on each of the other two.

And if one of the other two desperately wanted to play the harp, while the other wanted singing lessons, I would not deny the harp playing child just because those lessons were more expensive (harps cost a fortune) than singing lessons. And I would not be writing checks to the "singing" child to make things "equal" or "fair" or whatever. Nor would I pay for the harp, or harp lessons, if they were so expensive that it meant the first child spent his life in a wheelchair.

In our own families -- with limited financial and time resources, but with unlimited love and good will towards all our kids, we (at least those of us with SPED kids) make "equity" decisions all the time (unless we are so rich that each child has an equal multi-million dollar trust fund and we can give each child everything.) We have to do the same things in our social/political lives. Because we don't all have exactly the same ideas of what is valuable, we don't always agree. Add to that the fact that some folks are just out and out greedy and don't want to spend a dime to make ANYone's lives better, and it gets even more complicated.

I will never run a four minute mile, or dunk a basketball, or invent something that will win a Nobel prize. We cannot all be equal. But we CAN, as a society, come up with a more or less cohesive idea of:

1. What we would want for every child -- health, food, secure living situation, and a good enough education to self-actualize, become a participating citizen in a democratic society, make friends, and find work that is either meaningful or that at least allows for a meaningful, contributing life outside of work; and

2. What more we would like to be able to provide where possible -- exposure to and education in music, art, dance; the opportunity for intellectually gifted kids to truly proceed at the pace their intellects permit; the opportunity for athletically gifted kids to excel in their sports; the ability and opportunity to create new things or systems; exposure to other cultures -- and there are many more, I am sure.

And then we can try to allocate resources "equitably" -- if not equally -- to try to get all kids get the stuff in #1, and as many kids as possible get what we can afford to give them from #2.

Anonymous said…
@ Socrates, you said:
I guess the question is if a hypothetical average student was given the extra of small class size or a more homogeneous classroom, would not they benefit as do black males and kids in HCC? In other words, extras help all kids, so who gets them?

I don't think those are really the questions here. Sure, many kids benefit from the extras. So? How is that the central question in equity vs. equality?

To me, equity in education means making sure everyone has the basics they need to learn. For groups not performing at grade level, clearly we aren't doing enough. We need targeted interventions, which may mean targeting them to academic, linguistic, cultural, racial, gender and/or other needs. The goal is to bring them up to grade level, for starters.

For those already performing around grade level with standard interventions, provision of solid curricula that allow for some level of differentiation as appropriate should generally allow them to keep moving forward. The goal would be to continue to meet ever-increasing grade level standards, or even to exceed them. Equity doesn't demand "extras" for this group because the regular program is already targeted to this group.

For those working significantly above grade level, however, equity demands that there be some type of accommodations that allow these kids to also learn. This is why we gave gifted programs.

So rewording your question, I'd say it's more like "without any 'extras' or tailored approaches, which kids won't benefit?" Kids at the upper and lower ends, since regular classes tend to teach to the middle.

Half Full
seattle citizen said…
Jan writes the perfect Thanksgiving essay. Yay!
(Oh, and it addresses equity quite well, too. Yay!)
Anonymous said…
Kind of doubt that the family of the seventeen year old in Chicago is busy debating the difference between "equity" and "equality".

For too many kids it's about survival, not semantics.

--happy thanksgiving
Anonymous said…
Kind of doubt that the family of the seventeen year old in Chicago is busy debating the difference between "equity" and "equality".

For too many kids it's about survival, not semantics.

--happy thanksgiving
Charlie Mas said…
Couple things...

First, to happy thanksgiving, the difference between equality and equity is, for some kids, a matter of survival, not semantics. As the old saying goes, is the law fair because it is illegal for both the rich and the poor to sleep under bridges? Equality can be what is condemning multiple generations of families to poverty, crime, violence, substance abuse, and incarceration. It's not just semantics. If you can't afford to fight the charge, you plead guilty to the lesser charge. If you can't afford the fine you do time. That may be equal treatment, but it isn't equitable treatment.

Second, to the question of who gets the benefit of smaller class sizes or other supports or accommodations, the answer is that we do not have the luxury of pursuing positives. All we can afford to do right now is avoid negatives. Stop approaching it as an equality question and view it, instead, as an equity question. Don't ask: "Wouldn't all students benefit from smaller class sizes?" That'st not the right question. The right question is "Which students would be harmed without smaller class sizes?"
Anonymous said…
"The right question is "Which students would be harmed without smaller class sizes?""

But, large class size harms all kids as do hard to differentiate classrooms containing students with wide ranges of ability.

It's not fair to neglect the "middle", not when they can come closer to their full potential with the same accommodations as other groups.

What is fair or equitable is having every kid reach the same percentage of their potential, and making that percentage as high as possible.

So it's not the same outcome in terms of test scores or grades, but it is the same outcome in terms of academic potential achieved.

In terms of students' potential, equity demands equality.


Anonymous said…
In my experience, foursquare, that's not true. Highly capable and Spectrum kids do very well in larger numbers. For the most part, they self-manage better and retention is much higher which is generally what sets these kids apart. I have always asked for higher class size because I know how difficult my peer teachers have it. Yes, I have some management issues similar to regular classrooms but academics - not similar at all.

spectrum teacher
Anonymous said…
How many more kids per classroom should self-contained AL classrooms have?

seattle citizen said…
Four Square - A teacher could make an accurate assumption that a class full of students "above level" would be easier to manage and instruct than a class with a variety of levels. For this reason, it only makes sense that an AL class can function well with more students in it than a multilevel classroom. Smaller classes for multilevel classrooms benefit the students in them. Not equal, but equitable.
Anonymous said…
How on earth can you accurately measure a child's actual potential, much less a percentage of their potential? Are you suggesting more tests? I don't believe that is possible or really desirable. Every student deserves the chance to learn at school, and the middle has a curriculum designed for them, which is pretty nice. Kids who have a different zone of proximal development should get material for that zone.

I have heard that spectrum classes are better self mangers, but that classrooms of hc students are worse than gen Ed. I think it's equally likely that there is something about the groups of bc kids(wider levels than in gen Ed) as it is selection bias- spectrum classes are kids whose family chose a program in a school, while hc families left their entire school and neighborhood(so something really must not have been working).

But I have always thought walk to math should have different class sizes, and we currently pay for smaller class sizes in high poverty schools because that population makes larger gains than anyone else with those sizes. Those both seem like equity to me.

Anonymous said…
@ Seattle citizen, an AL class can just as easily have multiple levels in it as a class that has AL pulled out. They may be a year ahead, two, three, four, five... Why is that easier to manage, and how does that call for larger class sizes than Gen. Ed?

@ foursquare, accommodating higher and lower performing groups does not imply neglect of the middle. Rather, it acknowledges that the middle gets preferential treatment as the default. Instruction and materials are targeted to that group, giving them the best opportunities to achieve their potential. Other groups need special accommodations to have the same potential for improvement.

Charlie Mas said…
This isn't just about class size. There are people who think it unequal for some children to get advanced material. While some would say that it is equitable for students who have mastered the grade level material to get instruction from advanced materials, there are others who say that providing those students with advanced materials only exacerbates the inequity.

When Dr. Caprice Hollins was the District's Director of Equity and Race Relations she said that the District should not spend one dime to support children working beyond grade level until every child was working at grade level. That was her vision of equity and, while I disagree with it, it has validity for her. Let's not pretend that any of us has the one true vision of equity.
TechyMom said…
As a society, we must provide to every child the opportunity to find what they are good at, and to develop that as far as they can. Even if what they are good at isn't an obvious career choice, we must provide them with the experience of fully developing their ability in something, because that is the most transferable skill there is. That's true whether they are good at physics, writing, painting or soccer. It's also true no matter the child's race, relgion, orientation, disability or privilege. All of our children.

As far as I can tell, we're really not providing this to any children in public school at the moment. If we did, we probably wouldn't need to argue about who should get more or less of a meager offering.

seattle citizen said…
Midge - an AL class will often have more involved parents who a) steered student into AL, and/or b) provided enrichment, including "proper" ways to engage in a classroom setting. Students might, therefore, a) be under the parental eye a bit more, and b) act more manageable even if they are experiencing trouble.
And because of limited resources and limited abilities to meet EVERY level or need, schools might (if they're lucky) have, say, two "levels" of class: Gen Ed and Honors, for instance. Gen Ed will include many more diverse abilities than an Honors class. Yes, AL can have a wide range as well (let's say, at 9th grade, 9-12 with many 10-11) but typically it won't be as wide as Gen Ed (at 9th grade, 4-10, with many at all levels)
But the main factor is the behavior I mentioned at the start. AL classes are just more tuned in, as a whole, and less likely to disrupt.
Of course, as Techy Mom points out, students aren't a "level" - they are each unique with individual aptitudes and deficits in different things. So this is all gross generalization. But operationally, these factors pertain. So whether schools are fully funded or not, those who would benefit most from smaller classes would be Gen Ed. Of course ALL students would benefit from 10/1 student/teacher ratio, but in the real world we can't do that, so we have to decide how to allocate. Those who are at the 4th grade level in 9th grade NEED smaller class sizes more than those at the 11th grade level in 9th grade.
TechyMom said…
Our class sizes are all unacceptably large. We need to stop saying that's ok, for any kid. They all NEED reasonable class sizes. We need a state cap on class size (not ratio) in the low 20s, and no minimum class size. We need to stop pretending that 30 kids in a class is ok for ANY kid. Picking favorites won't fix this, as someone will always end up with an unacceptable situation.

We also need to stop picking favorites among subjects. Visual Arts, Humanities, Science, Engineering, Math, Performing Arts, business and creative writing, life skills, vocational training, citizenship skills, History, Languages, and Athletics are ALL important. Every kid needs these. Each kid will find some more important than others for their skills and goals, but every single kid needs basic education in these areas.

Once we're offering this basic level of education to every student, we can talk about whether some students need more.
dw said…
@TechyMom; it's not quite that simple. What about band/orchestra classes? Clearly they can be far bigger than 30 kids. PE classes? Probably the same. There is a wide range of acceptable class sizes, based on type of class and needs. Certain SpEd classes should be 6-8 students, while "regular" classes for younger kids should be smaller than high schoolers. Right?

I'm not arguing with your overall point, just that it's a lot more nuanced, and as a parent of AL kids, I have no problem with their classes being a bit larger than general education classes, in general.

Also, the main problem with kids taking ALL of the different kinds of classes you refer to is that there just flat out isn't time in a day/week/year to adequately squeeze all of that in. Even if your kid just wants to take a foreign language and instrumental music in middle/high school, you're done, there's no room for anything else, including PE, engineering, art, etc. That's a sad state of having only 6 classes every day, but it's reality.

Popular posts from this blog

Tuesday Open Thread

Seattle Public Schools and Their Principals

COVID Issues Heating up for Seattle Public Schools