Is equity possible? Good question. I think equity might be a work in progress. As teachers, fair treatment of all students should be a basic tenet of our philosophies. We also need to recognize the fact that this does not mean that we are going to treat every child the same. Students are individuals who come from different backgrounds and circumstances – a fact that should be taken into consideration when planning the educational experience of each child. I’m not advocating the customization of lessons for each student; I am simply saying that there is no “one size fits all” method for success in the classroom. We need to be flexible and willing to adjust our plans.
Something else that we need to think about is the reality that all schools are not created equal. Some schools have more and better resources than others. From this perspective, equity appears to be a long way from possible because the school systems that start off in advantageous positions usually maintain and/or improve their standing among “better” schools. And the others struggle along while fighting for any help that is available.
As administrators and school board personnel, equity is often related to financial matters. Big decisions must be made about the best way to spend the monies. This is a touchy issue for some people as questions arise about the most balanced plan to spend money for the education of students who populate categories ranging from gifted and talented to special needs.
We could also talk about equity in the quality of courses that students are offered. Most normal parents want their child to graduate from high school with the best education possible, but sometimes courses are overloaded and not every student gets to take a needed course. Other schools simply don’t have a wide curriculum because the money to fund it is not available. While we are talking about quality of course offerings, we might as well add in the fact that the poorer performing schools do not generally attract the most talented teachers.
In theory, I suppose NCLB represents an attempt by the federal government to create equity among the country’s schools by increasing the standards of accountability and allowing parents to send their children to schools (at the “failing” school’s expense) out of their district if the local school is not achieving its goals. However, in practice, I don’t think it works so well. A big problem with the law is that money is taken away from schools that are not meeting the standards set by the state. Also, the government does not fully fund the act, which puts a strain on local school boards to come up with money to comply with the law. Frequently, these are the same schools that had fewer resources before NCLB. Faced with the dilemma of decreased funding, local schools sometimes teach to the test which limits instruction and teachers’ enthusiasm. Teachers should have at least a modicum of input on what they will be teaching as equity for teachers is important, too. Another point about NCLB is that, to the detriment of some students, achievement goals are sometimes lowered.
As stated earlier, I think educational equity is a work in progress. NCLB is just the latest attempt du jour to manage an educational system. Others have come before it and surely more will follow. Equity is an honorable goal and worthwhile pursuit. But I think that the word gets tossed around a lot by everyone with any interest in education, vested or otherwise, because it is such a desirable concept. However, achievement is another story.