Guest Post via @clarksroom: Equity or Equality

I have been a part of multiple conversations [chats/tweets/Voxer groups] over the last few weeks discussing fair versus equitable versus equal…I have to admit at this point even I am confused as the words are so closely related. I know treating students 100% the same 100% of the time in 100% of the situations is not a good thing. But how do we describe this to students and to each other?

The last part of one of the conversations centered around the idea of limiting homework as sending work home poses an equity issue. Someone in the conversation stated that home differs greatly from student to student, so the most equitable place for a student to work is at school. I disagreed [as I tend to do in chats just to be a pain] with the idea that classrooms are any more consistent with equity than homes are. After that part of the conversation, I really started to wonder what I thought equity, fairness, and equality were.

The statements “equal doesn’t mean the same,” “equity doesn’t mean equal,” and “equal doesn’t mean fair” are made a lot during the conversations. I think we confuse the statements even though most people are getting at the same point.

Let’s look at a couple quick definitions:

  • Equal is defined as the same or exactly alike. [Equality]
  • Fair is defined as just or appropriate in the circumstances. [Fairness]
  • Equity is defined as the quality of being fair and impartial.

Equal is the easy one. I think in today’s world, we know people and students are different and treating everyone the same in every situation is not always the best solution. In a classroom setting, students need different things educationally, they just do. Differentiated instruction is a popular word for sure, do not know how much it happens though in reality.

Fair seems to be pretty straightforward as well, but it can be tricky as it is based on circumstances. At a restaurant, you can usually get a free dessert on your birthday; if I am there and it is not my birthday I cannot get the dessert for free. This would meet the definition of fair, as it is appropriate for you to get a free dessert on your birthday and appropriate for me to have to pay for mine because it is a normal day for me.  This is also a standard operating procedure for most restaurants so it is not like it would surprise me. This seems like a silly example, but it holds true.

Equity [not equality] is the quality of being fair and impartial. So it is treating a person appropriately based on their circumstances but not showing bias towards that person [favorable or unfavorable] either. Clear as mud right?

This is not so easy. Because when we treat students [people] appropriately based on their circumstances, we treat them differently. When students [parents] see that occurring and someone is getting more than they are, the “that’s not fair” statements come out. I think zero tolerance policies of the 90s became so big because the educational field was beaten down by the “that’s not fair” people and just said fine…everyone is getting treated the same. But it was fair, it wasn’t equal.

Equity can only occur in schools and in society if we are okay with people getting what they need, EVEN if it seems better or more than what we get. We need to have an altruistic character about us for equity to be successful and sadly, this is not common unless it is during the holidays or a disaster.

Good news is we can change that, be happy for people when they get what they need to be successful. No one like to hear you complain anyway!


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