Equity Is Like Heaven; We All Want To Get There But Nobody Can Agree How

To know me is to know my aversion to all things buzzwordy. My rule of thumb for education is that if it can fit on a bumper sticker, it’s probably no silver bullet. That’s especially true for “equity,” the Mecca of seemingly every educator in 2019 with an active Twitter account.

See, I love equity. I’m all for it, and if pressed, I would say it’s even the driving force behind what I’m trying to do on this platform. But the issue with equity is that it’s like heaven; we all want to get there, but nobody can agree how.

Ask a room full of educators how to arrive at “equity” in schools and you’ll get every answer imaginable. Discipline reform, curriculum reform, accountability reform — you name it, and we’ll reform it in the name of equity. But without so much as a working definition of the term, educationists immediately lose their clout at the first whiff of lazy assumptions or hollow virtue-signaling.

That’s why I’m proposing a new rule for all would-be equity advocates. Before we can talk about “equity in schools,” tell me what you really mean.

If you follow my site, you’ll know that I’ve always likened equity to fairness. If one group of students is at a disadvantage, especially if it’s something largely out of their control, it’s on us to try to help remove those obstacles. But of course, those obstacles are going to be different in every city and every community, and that makes equity quite a contextual beast.

Last year when I worked with Hope Street Group Kentucky to roll out a major data collection on educational equity, we saw firsthand how diverse the perspectives on equity were. In Louisville’s public schools, where racial diversity abounds, equity talk is more openly centered around the policies that have historically diminished the voices and domestic rights of people of color. And rightfully so.

But talk equity with teachers in Appalachia or the rural extremes of Kentucky, and you’ll see that equity isn’t always synonymous with race. Factors like poverty, health, and even geography can also affect students’ academic success, and we certainly should not be dismissive of those factors, either.

Rural families who lack access to Broadband internet find themselves in the middle of a “homework gap,” making it difficult for students to complete the assignments they need to master the standards. Higher education deserts mean that rural kids often have to stomach settling for less than their potential or leaving their families behind to pursue a degree. The demise of industry and shrinking tax bases mean less funding for schools in rural areas like my hometown, where it’s becoming harder for families to stick around. These are the kinds of inequities that students and communities like mine are up against, but by failing to call them out by name, we allow equity to become yet another bumper sticker motto that gets lost in the fray.

So before I have one more conversation or write one more post about equity, I’m going to lead by example and start thinking more concretely about what I can do to remove those obstacles for the kids in my community and across the Bluegrass. I’ve got a few ideas in mind, and as the summer moves along, I’ll be working alongside some other amazing advocates from across the country to shape up my goals and hit the ground running in the fall.

But in the meantime, I want to know what equity means to you. Where are we going, and how do we get there?


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