Educational Equity and Changing Demographics in the U.S.
The promise of the Brown v. the Board of Education ruling was that all children would have equal access to a world-class public education. Despite great advances in public education, existing structural and social barriers continue to limit many children’s access to a good education. Thus the movement for educational equity in the classroom continues.
Research by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has shown that overall social mobility has not risen in OECD countries and in some places inequalities of income and wealth have increased. In the United States, there has been a rise in childhood poverty from 17% in 2000 to 22% in 2015 (Kids Count, 2015). Studies have found that the poorest students are nearly four times as likely to fail in math than their wealthiest peers.
Additionally, the demographics of the classroom have significantly shifted since 1960. For example, in the western and southern regions of the U.S., children of color are already the majority in public schools. (NCES, 2015). We have also seen the rise of English Language Learners in the classroom over the last decade from 8% in 2001 to the current 10% (NCES, 2012). This means that teachers have much greater diversity in their classroom both in terms of students’ backgrounds and their academic needs.
This all sounds very daunting for the teacher who is trying to address all these issues and attain educational equity in his or her classroom. How is educational equity being defined and what is being proposed to promote it?
Defining Educational Equity
For the OECD, educational equity in education has two dimensions, which are closely intertwined:
- Fairness – making sure that personal and social circumstances, such as gender, socio-economic status or ethnic origin, should not be an obstacle to achieving educational potential.
- Inclusion – ensuring a basic minimum standard of education for all.
In a 2017 report, the Education Commission of the States addressed fairness and inclusion by explaining that a focus on equity must take “into consideration the varying personal experiences and social identifiers that impact students’ educational opportunities, including race, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, disability, family background, and others.” The report stresses that the way to address these inequities is for education leaders to first understand that diverse students have diverse needs. It proposes that states should strive for equity in educational opportunities by providing all students with the unique supports they need to succeed.
At the school level, this becomes a question of how to best allocate resources so that an equitable solution can be created to meet the needs of each student. According to a brief from the National School Board Association, to close the achievement gap the solution has to address:
- Current inequities in funding
- Access to high-level curriculum
- Access to good teachers
- How school discipline is imposed
Most importantly, education systems have to be held accountable not only for providing spaces for learning and fostering student growth but also for continued assessment of these systems to support equity. So how are schools and publishers addressing equity? Our next blog will explore these critical questions.