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Knowing the Difference Between Equity vs. Equality

When it comes to getting students “on the same page,” it’s important to understand the difference between two key (and easily confused) terms: equity and equality. Even though these words may seem interchangeable, it’s important that instructors examine the subtle distinctions that separate one from the other. Knowing the difference can—well, make all the difference.

The fundamental difference between equality and equity often comes down to the idea of “fairness”. Equality (in the educational sense) asks teachers to offer each student the same amount of instruction, attention, and opportunity. While this may, in theory, sound ideal and fair, it does little to address the profound need of certain students. Since not all students start at the same place (think underserved student populations, second-language learners, students with disabilities, etc.) having the exact same blanket educational resources and practices can, in fact, provide inadequate and unfair support for many. As any instructor knows, the average classroom is populated by students of diverse—and fundamentally unequal—backgrounds. What’s equal may not be entirely equitable. Equity, on the other hand, attempts to look at the opportunity gap presented by inherently unequal circumstances and attempt to “level the playing field”.

If we are to tackle the various imbalances, we see in any learning population, we must think about equity—granting each student the support (however much, however little) that he or she needs. For more information, read this white paper.