Equity and equality: Leveling the playing fields so everyone can play

Four children running in an open field filled with tall grass

As I explained in my recent webinar, the words equality and equity in education are used all across America’s schools and many times they are used synonymously. The concern is that these two words paint a very different picture when they are used with the true intent of each word: equal and fair. Equality permeates the idea of sameness and everyone getting the same thing. Whereas equity is striving for fairness and being impartial. When looking at the needs of an educational entity the correct words need to be used, so the desired outcomes are obtained. However, throughout my career I have seen these terms tossed around, and unfortunately confusing the issues instead of clarifying them. By discussing these terms in depth, I want to shine a light on what is truly equal and fair, as well as how it impacts us.

Let’s start by focusing on three important areas: learning opportunities, access to environments, and resources/funding. All of these areas are critical components of educational settings and the understanding of equality versus equity in education resonates within each of them. It is imperative that ALL students have access to these areas, but they need to be treated equitably as well. I think we are all in agreement that every student should be provided a pathway to any and all learning opportunities, educational environments, and resources. The ideal scenario is that within this access we are providing all of these pathways in conjunction with need. The need drives the access and opportunity to better serve the individual or group.

Equality and Equity at a National Level

elementarystudents-thumb-340x440-485208767We can see that legislation, policy, etc. have worked to provide equal allotments of services and dollars, as seen in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The word “equality” is used 34 times in the form of spending, opportunity, and access, but the word “equitable” is only used three times when mentioning services and high quality teachers. However, other initiatives have picked up and carried the torch for equity in education and providing money, opportunity, and access to those who need it, and it is designed with them in mind. The Ladders of Opportunity and Promise Zones initiatives along with the Equity and Excellence Commission are working to develop services and programs that meet the need of individuals and groups. They are inquiring and planning to be specific in their cause as many education professionals do each year when prepping for the upcoming or current school year.

Bringing Equality and Equity in Education to the Local Level

Every year administrators, teachers, support staff, and more plan and design their learning environments to meet the many demands of their populations. They are creating school-wide and classroom expectations, overviewing the curriculum, and finding resources so that they are prepared when all of the students arrive. This holistic approach will provide patterns and trends specific to the larger group and drive some very important decisions. However, the true test will be if they are looking at specific groups or individuals and reviewing their needs so that they will also be prepared for them as well. This data-driven planning based on need will inevitably lead to meeting the needs of all students. For example, one program that collects data is Review360; it has the ability to look at the big picture and drill down to the individual. It provides the needed insight to create comprehensive plans, but in the words of Peter Drucker, “Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes; but no plans.”

We know that planning is crucial, but actually putting that plan into motion and adjusting for variations are imperative. Using varying strategies and interventions that treat students the same, but differently will be key when working in the learning environment. We have to know that we can’t truly be equal all the time with students whether it is in the academic or behavioral world. There are times when we can be equal in education: providing quality instruction, setting expectations, being consistent. There are also times when we need to use the equitable approach: a student needs to have a variation of the curriculum or needs additional behavioral supports. These approaches are fluid and dynamic throughout the day and therefore it falls on the teacher to make these quick decisions to provide the proper response. This can be difficult when teachers are not armed with the proper skill sets.

Female elementary school teacher and student interactingAcross the country, educators have told me that today’s ever-changing landscape at schools challenges their training and skills every day. Educators feel they do not have the essential skills to handle the myriad of needs that are in their classrooms. My thought is we are building skill sets that match the behaviors and needs occurring in their environment. If the new teachers are not receiving it in their pre-service work or veteran teachers are seeing “things” they feel are out of their scope of training, then we need to work to train them and provide the tools they need to be successful. Many teachers tell me they feel prepared to manage the large portion of their students, the 85%-90%, it is the 10-15% that they are struggling to reach. This clearly shows that equity in education is essential and teachers need to have more tools in the tool kit than the ones that meet the large group’s needs. We have to be prepared to meet the needs of 100%.

It is clear that, yes, we in the educational field need to have the ability to show equality in education, but we must also be prepared to look through the equitable lens. We know that providing equal resources, access, and opportunity is something we can do within our own environments. The challenge is: Can we provide these same things equitably to individuals that require it to be delivered in a specific way so they are competing on the same playing field? We don’t want to change the rules of the game, we just want individuals to be able to have the chance to compete on that field.


Using data can help teachers more easily manage the 10-15% who could use extra help to play on the level playing field. Let’s discuss data more in depth and how to use it at my upcoming interactive town hall-style webinar, Year in Review: Making the Most of Your Data, Wednesday, May 18, 11 a.m., CT. Bring your questions and let’s have a great discussion.

Hunches, gut feelings, and intuition are sometimes the first ways of identifying children with behavioral and emotional disorders. But knowledge about what behaviors should cause concern and when to take action are more helpful for the teacher. Attend our upcoming professional development webinar, Best Practices for Addressing Behaviors of Concern, Wednesday, July 20, 12 PM, ET.

More info about other webinars and town halls is located on our Behavior Matters website.


About the Author

Adam Bauserman has nearly 20 years of experience in education as both a general education and special education teacher as well as a behavior specialist and instructional specialist. His experience has been in Colorado, Indiana, and Texas. He has also served as an instructor at Ball State University and a state project coordinator for the state of Indiana. Adam joined Review360 in 2014 as an implementation specialist. His role is to train and support all stakeholders utilizing Review360 by providing ongoing educational professional development. Connect with Adam on Twitter @DoctorBehave