Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Barriers/Equity

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How is equity a barrier to effective education?

Equity has been a battle for all of mankind since the beginning of time because it involves the moral value of fairness. Even the youngest of children understand fairness and it is often the center of their universe and what they thrive upon. Therefore, there is no contest that equity is a barrier in education. The equity barrier affects three main groups in education: race, gender, and special needs.

The Difference Between Equity and Equality[edit]

It is important not to confuse equity and equality. A good definition of both is “Equity refers to fairness which may require different treatment or special measures, for some persons or groups. Equality refers to the same treatment in dealings, quantities or values” (Gray). With a clear definition of each, the equity barrier, which faces race, gender, and special needs, should be coming clear.

Race[edit]

A study finds this, “…Asian and Pacific Islanders lead other U.S. populations in home computer ownership (55%). White, non-Hispanic house-holds rank second (46.6%), while other race and origin groups (American Indian/Eskimos/Aleuts, blacks, and Hispanics) lag between 12.3 and 23.4 percentage points behind their white counterparts” (www.ncrel.org/engauge/framewk/equ/racial/equracra.htm).

When race and education are mentioned together, the first thing to come to mind is school integration. Integration of schools would fall under equality because it gives all races same treatment with same buildings, books, and teachers. While over the past forty or so years there has been a movement for equality in schools, there is still an equity barrier. There have been studies done correlating home computer ownership and racial equity. Humans now live in a digital world. With the movement, there has been more required to be done on computers. Education has moved to integration of technology into classrooms and today’s students have to rely heavily upon technology and computers. With this, it makes sense to evaluate racial equity in education by evaluating home computer ownership and Internet access. With teachers asking students to rely on computers in home settings, it makes for an unfair education. A study finds this, “…Asian and Pacific Islanders lead other U.S. populations in home computer ownership (55%). White, non-Hispanic house-holds rank second (46.6%), while other race and origin groups (American Indian/Eskimos/Aleuts, blacks, and Hispanics) lag between 12.3 and 23.4 percentage points behind their white counterparts” (Indicator: Racial Equity).

With a computer comes the need for the Internet. Internet access is also lower in black and Hispanic households. This is not to say that the only way to learn is from a computer or the Internet but it does provide an edge over a traditional classroom setting. Based upon the percentages from research, there is not equity among races in education. Just as equality has been an on-going effort to provide same treatment among races, strides will need to be made to bring equity to education.

Gender[edit]

With all three (race, gender, and special needs) it is important to remember that treating all the same is not always fair. This is especially true in dealing with gender. Learning approaches among genders is not the same because girls often approach learning differently from boys. Because of different learning approaches, genders analyze and solve problems differently. Girls are often auditory learners whereas boys tend to be more visual learners. Females also have to deal with sexual harassment more than males. This affects self-esteem, which contributes to equity problems among genders. When a female is faced with sexual harassment, it makes for an uncomfortable education setting. Comfort, such as room temperature or hunger, affect how one concentrates and one’s ability to learn. Sexual harassment also leads to an uncomfortable learning atmosphere. Most teachers believe that they are unbiased towards genders. Studies show however that teachers tend to give boys more attention in the classrooms in the form of acceptance, praise, criticism, and remediation. Teachers also tend to ask boys higher orders of questions. Also, societal messages about women and girls lower their self-esteems, which negatively affect them in performing to their full potential in school. Females often feel limited in what they can do (Things to Remember About Gender Equity in Schools). How we treat genders today is probably the result of the perceptions of genders from years ago. Equality among genders actually came after the equality among races. There were many misconceptions about women such as they were incapable to learn like men, vote like men, or make important decisions. While society today does not view women in this light, some of the negative undertones involving women and education still remain in societal messages and unintentional biases.

Special Needs[edit]

Special needs children are probably the hardest to accommodate with equality and equity. This is probably because even though they are grouped into one category each individual has different needs. There have been plans implemented by the government to accommodate those who do have special needs, such as Section 504. However, there are still glitches in the system that makes it difficult to accommodate each student individually. Not only is there a fiscal cost to accommodating special needs student but there is also the cost of time. There was a time where all special needs children were placed in a classroom among themselves. While these made it easier for educators it was not the best solution for equity. Education is to teach children to be prepared for the outside world and function productively in society. Therefore, keeping children contained in a classroom, which hinders their abilities, is not fair to the child. In order for inclusion and equity to be obtainable for special needs students technology needs to be acquired, input and output features need to be in place to ensure equal access, educators need to be aware and training, and students need to be ready for the real world. This is not to say that every piece of technology in schools needs to be equipped for special needs students but they need to be accessible. Educators need to be aware of what can be offered to students with special needs and be trained in how to apply accommodations to those students. Schools as a whole as well as districts need to be active in curriculum development, resource allocations, and instruction. If special needs students are constricted to “their” classrooms throughout their entire education, they will not be ready for the real world after school. These children just like every other child need to be introduced to the real world. If they are unable to leave their classrooms, then the real world needs to be able to come to them in the classroom (Indicator: Special Needs Equity).

Conclusion[edit]

There is no easy way to ensure equity in schools. Just as bridges are built to cross divides educators must make strides in removing the equity barrier in schools and education. While we continue in our struggle to bring equality to all we must keep in mind that we also need equity and treating all the same is not always fair. Until we find solutions the equity barrier will continue to effect race, gender, and special needs.

Multiple Choice Questions[edit]

Click to reveal the answer.

Which situation best shows equity?
A. All schools and classrooms have the same textbooks, curriculum, and technology.
B. A school in which races, genders, and special needs children are separated in classrooms.
C. A world where every child has a laptop.
D. A school which includes all children no matter what race, gender, or special needs but adapts and tries to understand each child’s individual needs.

D. A school which includes all children no matter what race, gender, or special needs but adapts and tries to understand each child’s individual needs.

The best thing to do for a Spanish speaking immigrant child is:
A. Put them in a classroom with all English speaking children so they can be equal and adapt to the new language at a more rapid rate.
B. Provide them with Spanish classes, which help them with inclusion into a normal English-speaking classroom.
C. Provide them with a computer.
D. Provide an all-Spanish environment for the duration of their education.

B. Provide them with Spanish classes, which help them with inclusion into a normal English-speaking classroom.

The best way to accommodate different genders is to:
A. Divide classes into boys-only and girls-only.
B. Provide counseling to females, which will allow them to better deal with societies negative undertones regarding females.
C. Teach lessons with lectures and visual aids.
D. Have the male students tutor the female students.

C. Teach lessons with lectures and visual aids.

Part of equity is:
A. Understanding the differences in learning types and understanding ones own unintentional biases.
B. Treating each student the exact same as the next.
C. Putting all the smart students in one small work group.
D. Doing presentations and moving at a snail's pace in lessons so everyone understands.

A. Understanding the differences in learning types and understanding ones own unintentional biases.

The best thing for special needs students is:
A. Grouping them in one classroom together for the duration of their education.
B. Providing them with technology.
C. Evaluating each student individually and providing room for inclusion into regular education classes throughout their education.
D. Making all computers school wide accessible to special needs children.

C. Evaluating each student individually and providing room for inclusion into regular education classes throughout their education.

Ms. Jones is a special needs teacher. Which of these is not a way to accommodate equity in her classroom?
A. Accessible technology sources.
B. Place each student in an individual room.
C. Section 504/IEPs.
D. Be introduced to the real world.

B. Place each student in an individual room.

A classroom with more than half of the students being ESL learners and being taught in English only would be which type of barrier?
A. Obsolescence
B. Mobility
C. Equity
D. Accountability

C. Equity

Race in education used to be an issue of equality, but now is an equity issue because:
A. They learn different things.
B. Teachers do not like other races.
C. They are smarter.
D. Availability of sources at home are slimmer.

D. Availability of sources at home are slimmer.

Essay Question[edit]

Click to reveal sample responses.

Compare and contrast equity and equality? Does one hinder the other?

Equity and equality are both important for success in education. Equity is to provide fairness to all while equality provides sameness for all. While it is important for their to be likeness in all schools in regards to facilities, accessibility, and the quality of teachers, there also needs to be room for adjustment for every child. For example, it may be okay to demand students in a suburban school area to use a computer for most of their school work while in a home setting. However, if teaching in an inter-urban school with a large ethnic student body where statistics show that computers in the home setting are not accessible for the majority of your classroom you may have them use the school facilities in the classroom settings for computer work and have them complete other work which does not require a computer at home. This is providing both equity and equality for both schools but requiring different work is done at different times. It would not be right to say that equity or equality hinder one another but they do some times make solutions to certain race, gender, and special needs problems difficult to find. Equal is not always fair in the real world. While one person may only need to eat two pieces of pizza to feel full another person may only need one to feel the same fullness. One piece of pizza for each is equal but not fair because it deprives one person of feeling the same fullness as the other. The same applies to educational situations. The important thing is to find a happy medium, which provides every child with an equal and fair chance to succeed with their education so that they may enter into the real world fully equipped.


Equity and equality are both important in the school systems. All students need to be treated with equality. This means that they have the same opportunities, the same education, and the same resources. They also are treated the same by teachers and other people within the school systems. This sameness is important so each child has the same potential and advantages. Equity is important to provide each child fair treatment in school. As we all know, some children require more support, training, resources, or help when learning. Equity is the process of helping these students through special circumstances. This allows the students to stay on track and on par with the rest of the class. Some students may need special learning devices while others may just need tutors or other assistance. No matter the situation, both are required to provide a stable and productive learning experience. They work together to help children succeed. Equality helps all children stay on the same track through school. Then equity gives specific assistance to each child to help he or she stay with the group. I believe that one could not work without the other. If everyone got special measures but there was no equality, then some students would have an advantage other others. Likewise, if everyone were treated equal, some students would fall behind because they needed additional help. —Amber Frost

References[edit]