Equity in Education: Understanding Equity in the Classroom

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The goal of education is to prepare students with the skills and knowledge they need to become successful, productive members of society. However, the path to reaching their objectives may present more substantial obstacles for some students compared to others. For example, some students might face socioeconomic barriers or have learning disabilities that make it more challenging to complete assignments in a classroom setting. By promoting equity in education, teachers can help reduce these barriers and promote an environment where everyone can achieve their best. 

This article will explain how educators can give students more access to opportunities — and in turn, improve their learning outcomes — by placing a stronger focus on equity in the classroom. We’ll compare the difference between equity and equality, discuss the benefits of equity in education, and review some strategies for educators to create a more equitable and inclusive learning environment for students. We’ll also identify some of the challenges or obstacles that educators might face along the way and share some steps that teachers can take to build their own skills for promoting classroom equity. 

Whether you teach in a traditional or digital classroom or are still in the process of becoming an educator, these tips and strategies will help you create a more inclusive and supportive environment for all of your students. 

What Do We Mean When We Say “Equity”?

You might have heard about equity in a financial context, like the idea of “building equity” in a home or vehicle. Unsurprisingly, equity in classroom settings has a different meaning. 

According to the National Equity Project, “Educational equity means that each child receives what they need to develop to their full academic and social potential.” This process involves “ensuring equally high outcomes” for all students while “removing the predictability of success or failures that… [correlates] with any social or cultural factor,” such as having reliable access to transportation. 

Equity sometimes needs clarification or is conflated with equality. Let’s examine how these ideas differ and why it’s essential to understand the distinction. 

Equality vs. Equity in Education

The terms “equity” and “equality” are sometimes used interchangeably. However, while these terms might sound alike, they refer to different concepts. Aspiring educators should understand the distinctions between equity and equality in order to create learning environments where both are embraced. 

Equality, as the term suggests, refers to a condition where all learners have access to the same opportunities and conditions. For example, equality might look like giving the same equipment to all students, like ensuring that every student receives the same textbook.

While equality is important, it doesn’t ensure all students have the same chance of success. For example, some students might need special accommodations due to having a disability, living in a home without internet access, or speaking English as their second language. 

These reasons are why it is so important to focus on equity and acknowledge that not all students have the same learning needs. In an equitable learning environment, students don’t just receive the same tools or resources — they also receive accommodations based on their unique circumstances. This environment enables students to reach their fullest potential regardless of factors like income, race, gender, disability, language, or other variables. 

In basic terms, equality aims to ensure that all students receive the same resources, whereas equity concentrates on creating a learning environment that is both just and impartial. 

Woman working on laptop

Challenges to Creating an Equitable Environment for Students

Unfortunately, educators often face barriers to equity in the classroom. The best way to overcome these barriers is to understand where they exist and, even more importantly, what strategies can be used to address them. 

Understanding the barriers to equity will help you detect and overcome them more successfully as an educator. Here are some equity vulnerabilities that may be present for some students:

  • Learning to speak, read, or write in English 
  • Being unhoused or housed in a shelter 
  • Experiencing child abuse and neglect 
  • Lacking adequate food and healthcare 
  • Experiencing learning or intellectual disabilities or visual or hearing loss 
  • Living with poverty at the household or community level 

While educators cannot necessarily solve all of these problems directly, they can take action to help alleviate equity issues that arise. For example, educators should know what steps they can take if they suspect abuse or neglect in a student’s home, or how they can communicate their concerns to the school’s leadership or administration. In this blog, we’ll also discuss some ways that teachers can build their skills and become more inclusive. 

Benefits of an Equitable Environment for Learning

There are numerous reasons why educators should strive to promote greater equity, inclusivity, and diversity in the classroom, whether the setting is virtual or traditional. Here are a few benefits of equity in learning: 

  • Increasing equity helps educators create — and students become — the leaders of tomorrow. For example, one study showed that students who attended more diverse learning environments exhibited greater improvements in their leadership skills. 
  • Increased equity is linked to superior learning outcomes and performance on exams. For example, research shows that when racial segregation in school decreases, so do performance gaps on SATs, which shrank by as much as a quarter in one study. 
  • Some studies conclude that students who interact with a more diverse peer group and learn in a more inclusive environment are less likely to hold biased or prejudicial views later in life, contributing to a fairer and more tolerant society. 
  • When students feel heard, supported, and included, they are more likely to be engaged in the learning process. Research has shown that heightened student engagement is linked to better academic outcomes. 

Strategies for Promoting Equity in Education

There are several strategies that schools, educational leaders, and teachers can implement to help improve the level of equity in their classrooms. These strategies include the following examples: 

  • Addressing resource allocation by ensuring equal access to funding, technology, and educational materials
  • Providing targeted support, interventions, and assistance to students who are at risk of falling behind
  • Emphasizing the importance of inclusivity and cultural competence
  • Providing teachers with professional development and training opportunities to promote inclusivity and cultural competence
  • Utilizing data to identify disparities in performance and determine what interventions are most urgently needed 
  • Promoting inclusivity and acceptance not only concerning race, gender, culture, and religion, but also for LGBTQI+ students, who, as one study points out, are “often the targets of physical and psychological harassment [which] can place them at risk for isolation, reduced academic achievement, and physical and mental harm.” 

You can also find some additional tips for creating an inclusive classroom located at the end of this blog.  

Woman standing in kitchen

Promoting Equity at Different Levels

Equity doesn’t end in the classroom. In fact, the most effective way to create lasting, meaningful learner equity is to promote it at all levels of education. That means reforming existing policies, or launching new policies and initiatives; holding interventions for at-risk students, such as providing counseling services or additional time to complete assignments; and, last but not least, getting the local community, families, and parents more involved in each student’s learning. 

For example, schools can take top-down steps like hiring a director of equity and diversity, or review and update the methods they use to train and hire new staff members on topics like inclusivity and race. 

Tips for Creating an Inclusive Classroom

No matter what subject you teach or what age your students are, your learners will benefit from a more inclusive learning environment. So what can you do as an educator to create one? 

Whether your students learn online, in the classroom, or a combination of both, here are six tips to help you create a more inclusive learning environment.

  • Welcoming each student and ensuring that names are properly pronounced 
  • Using educational technology to accommodate a wider range of learning styles
  • Using posters or other visual aids that are inclusive and represent diversity
  • Being mindful of religious and cultural holidays when creating class schedules and calendars
  • Encouraging multiple students to contribute their ideas and opinions during class discussions 
  • Promptly addressing comments that discriminate against or exclude others

Building Your Skills for a Fairer Learning Environment

Like any other professional, teachers need to cultivate specific skills in order to become successful in their roles. For example, it isn’t enough merely to know about a subject or topic; it’s also critical for teachers to be clear communicators and attentive listeners in order to be effective educators. 

Just like teaching a specific subject or grade level, creating a fairer learning environment also requires specific skills. For example, educators need the ability to identify and prevent bias, which is why it’s valuable to participate in unconscious bias (UB) training. The Harvard Business Review explains that “UB training seeks to raise awareness of the mental shortcuts that lead to snap judgments — often based on race and gender — about people’s talents or character. Its goal is to reduce bias in attitudes and behaviors at work,” such as decisions about who should be hired or promoted — or, in an educational context, how teachers should lead and interact with their students.

Another step that teachers can take is to participate in equity coaching. In equity coaching, educators learn about the different forms that oppression and bias can take, then build skills and habits to break the cycle of inequity that deprives underserved populations of learning opportunities. 

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Become a Teacher with a Degree, Credential, or Certificate from National University

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Our fast-paced programs empower you to graduate sooner, giving you a head-start on any career path you’re passionate about exploring. Talk to our friendly admissions counselors about which program is right for you, or start your application to National University online today.

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