Sunday, March 30, 2014

Equality and Equity in Education

Original Source Unknown.
Please let me know if  you know the original source!

Update 8/5/16 - Discovered the original graphic source
 is Dr. Craig Froehle when this random post
popped up in my Facebook feed!
Earlier this month, I participated on a panel about BYOD Equity at SXSWedu. In the weeks leading up to the panel, the graphic to the right came across my radar. I thought it was an excellent visual of the difference between equality and equity. I used it when introducing our SXSWedu panel, and it seemed to resonate with others as well, as it was photographed and Tweeted during the presentation several times.

Last Thursday while I was in a breakout session during our Spring TEC-SIG meeting, session presenter Wendy Jones referenced this graphic as she discussed teacher professional development and access to technology. Wendy had seen it when attending the aforementioned panel at SXSWedu.

After Wendy mentioned the graphic in the TEC-SIG session, other attendees requested that I Tweet it out. I did so, and after being re-tweeted by a couple of folks, it has gone viral and still continues to be passed around via Twitter. Check out the number of re-tweets and favorites on the Tweet below!

Why has this graphic resonated with people? I think it's because it captures in a simple picture concepts that are difficult to communicate with words: Equality connotes treating everyone the exact same way regardless of need while equity references providing each individual with the resources they need to operate in as level a playing field as possible.

By providing all of the kids in the picture with the same box, in other words, treating them equally, we give the tallest student help he does not need, the middle student exactly what he needs, and the shortest student gets closer to the goal but still does not have his needs entirely met. If we look at each student as an individual through the lens of equity, we see in this case our tallest student does not need extra support, we are meeting our middle student's needs, and we need to give an extra boost to our shortest kid. Suddenly, everyone is successful.

Equality and equity are not the same thing; a focus on equity will probably achieve the ultimate purpose of equalizing the playing field in education. When we say we want all students and educators to be successful and have equal opportunities, equity is probably where we need to focus.

Are You Planning for Equality or Equity?

As I have contemplated the resonance of this graphic over the past few weeks, I've begun to think about how we approach decision making in education, especially when it comes to large-scale endeavors. And I've begun wondering about areas where we usually talk equality but instead might do better to talk about equity. Here is what I have come up with so far:

  • Replacing technology for teachers: Does everyone need the exact same (equal) setup? Or do different teachers/grade levels/subjects need different types of technology (equitable)  to meet their learning goals? (Thanks Wendy Jones for planting this one in my head!)
  • Replacing technology for students or offering it for the first time: If you are moving into or moving on with 1:1 deployments for students, are you providing the exact same device for all students K-12 (equal) or have you taken into account their unique needs based on their developmental stages and the learning they need to accomplish (equity)?
  • Professional development: Is every teacher going to be expected to complete the exact same sessions (equal) or are you providing multiple tracks or choice based on their individual development needs (equity)?
  • Planning new buildings: Are you building your next elementary/middle/high school campus on the exact same template that has been used for other campuses on your district (keeping it "fair" and "equal") or are you looking at the latest research on best practices for learning spaces and planning accordingly? Consider that you could at some point retrofit existing campuses to aim for equity.
  • Course offerings and graduation plans for students: Do we need to provide the same course plans for every student in order to prepare them for college (equality) or should we be providing multiple, flexible options to prepare them for what they are interested in after high school (equity)?

I know I am missing some important topics regarding equality and equity. What are your thoughts on these concepts in education? What other areas do we need to contemplate through the lens of equity? I hope you will share your thoughts in the comments so we can continue to learn together.

 All original work in this post by Sandy Kendell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Please see specifics on my re-use policy in the right-hand column of my blog before re-posting/re-using any of my blog content.