Educational Equity Defined

What is educational equity? How do we know it when we see it and feel it?

What is inequity?


During my conversations about educational equity with educators and school leaders, these questions come up often.  Sometimes the questions are explicit, sometimes they are implicit in the larger discussions we are having. I have found that the word equity is thrown around often, but a shared, useful and actionable meaning is elusive and often abstract at best. In response to numerous equity conversations and initiatives that are lacking in definition and purpose, I’ve decided to define educational equity.  To give educational equity parameters… look like’s… and feel’s like’s. But before I do that, I would like to start with what educational equity is NOT.

Educational Equity is NOT:

  • Equal (equity is unique to each need and circumstance)
  • Color blindness or treating everyone the same (equity is responsive/respectful to each individual)
  • Merely opportunity or access (equity is outcomes)
  • Only individual actions or mindsets (equity is institutional and systemic)
  • Simply a final goal or destination (equity is a way of being)
  • Accomplished in a set of test scores or quantitative data (equity is a deep core value)
  • Charity or charitable (equity is what is right and just)

Educational Equity is academic success and belonging for each and every student.

Educational equity is about individuals, relationships, and systems. A school that is educationally equitable is one in which we value each individual for who they are and provide the structures, environment, and resources each student needs to reach their greatest potential.

In a practical sense, educational equity looks like:

  • Authentic relationships with and among students, staff and families
  • Curriculum, instruction and assessment that is adaptive as well as responsive to– and reflective of—the student learners
  • Resources and supports required for learning are provided for all learners
  • High expectations for each student, with all students meeting academic expectations and their full potential
  • Welcoming and safe school environments
  • An understanding and articulation that schools are a key setting for the formation of societal equity

For students, equity feels like:

  • I am valued for my strengths and contributions
  • I am respected for who I am
  • My voice is heard and appreciated
  • I feel cared about and I care about others
  • I see myself, my family, and my community represented
  • I feel comfortable and welcomed
  • I am confident and challenged
  • I am empowered to achieve my goals and full potential
  • I see my place and responsibility in creating a better future

Educational equity acknowledges and rectifies the existence of inequity. It understands that the under representation of some student populations in measures of academic belonging and achievement is persistent and predictable. Educational equity finds that unacceptable. Educational equity emphasizes the needs, experiences, and outcomes for underrepresented or marginalized students, particularly those who identify as:

  • Black and of African descent, Chicanx/Latinx, Asian, and Indigenous Nations or American Indian

and the compounded experiences of students at intersection of race and the labels or identities:

  • Immigrant, Refugee, English Learner, LGBTQ, free or reduced-price lunch, religious minority, special education, homeless or highly mobile.

Educational equity names inequity in schools. Educational equity is not okay with underrepresented students experiencing:

  • Unwelcoming schools
  • Invisibility in curriculum and instruction
  • Insufficient or ineffective pedagogy
  • Academic course or program tracking and misplacement
  • Under representation in advanced academics and STEM courses
  • Low expectations from educators
  • Strained relationships with educators
  • High rates of discipline and suspension
  • Delayed or denied graduation

So how do we increase educational equity? As an initial start, to create educational equity we must evaluate ourselves by the fundamental equity lens questions:

  • Who is benefiting? (from our policies, practices, or procedures)
  • Who is marginalized? (by our policies, practices, or procedures)
  • How will we expand benefit and eliminate marginalization?

Get comfortable with these questions. Ask them repeatedly and regularly. Take action based on the answers. And, as we ask ourselves these questions, we must place our priorities on addressing the educational experiences and outcomes of historically, traditionally and consistently underserved, marginalized and underrepresented students. Expanding educational equity prioritizes educational outcomes for underserved students with the faith and understanding that every student benefits from equity-focused pedagogy and society as a whole benefits from all students meeting their goals, dreams and full potential.