Racial and socioeconomic disparities continue to create challenges for educators across America. You can almost guess the test scores of a school by its zip code. As income inequality continues to soar, what can administrators and teachers do to increase equity and access in education?
It’s impossible to underestimate the importance of equity in education, which means providing resources where they’re needed the most. However, money can prove challenging to come by, particularly in the current climate. Educators, therefore, must incorporate whatever tools they have at their disposal to promote equity in the classroom.
Factors Impacting Equity and Access in Education
It’s impossible to underestimate the importance of equity in education, which means providing resources where they’re needed the most.
One of the factors that creates inequalities in the quality of education is the way schools are funded in the United States. Many states raise a significant portion of public school revenue through property taxes. This practice creates a glaring disparity — schools located in wealthier neighborhoods will have higher funding than those in lower-income areas.
You can see this dynamic at play in Connecticut. Although it ranks as one of the wealthiest states in the nation, it has some of the poorest schools within its borders. Students in high-income areas have access to resources like school psychologists and institutionally funded laptops, while those in more impoverished regions lack these amenities. Greenwich, for example, spends $6,000 more per student than nearby Bridgeport.
Another issue creating educational disparity involves Title I funding. This landmark educational bill made the financing of lower-income schools a national responsibility rather than a purely local one. The problem is that schools need to maintain adequate yearly progress on academic measures or face numerous consequences, including state takeover and, eventually, choice initiatives.
These schools have no choice but to overemphasize test scores to the exclusion of all else, even though copious research supports the idea that electives like music and the arts help bolster academic achievement in core classes. This exclusion of electives hurts already struggling school systems the most.
Music can also work as a therapeutic channel for children who have a history of abuse or come from displaced communities — as many low-income students do. These kids also lack the parental resources to seek therapy outside of the classroom, so denying them electives to focus on standardized testing creates further inequity.
Finally, schools that receive Title I funding need to implement programs, activities and procedures that promote parental involvement. However, many lower-income parents work multiple jobs or perform shift labor to put food on their families’ tables. It’s not that they don’t want to take a more active role in their child’s education, but they lack time to attend parent-teacher conferences and extracurricular activities.
Suggestions for How to Promote Equity in the Classroom
Given the significant disparities as well as the challenges in access to resources, what can teachers and other school professionals do to promote equity in the classroom? The following activities can help improve teaching skills and inspire higher academic achievement in students:
- Examine biases: Educators must understand how their identification with a particular group, such as holding a college degree, gives them privilege in certain spaces. They must remain open to actively listen to marginalized groups and acknowledge personal biases. How often have educators miscategorized inappropriate behavior as a moral failing when a student may have acted out due to hunger or stress at home?
- Communicate clear classroom standards: Teachers must communicate that they expect achievement from all students regardless of their home situations, and they must establish classroom rules that promote equity and diversity. They can introduce and reinforce concepts like learning in discomfort and respecting everyone’s voice as part of an effective classroom management strategy.
- Culturally relevant teaching: Teachers need to recognize diversity in both race and areas like social justice and activism. That way, they can connect the lessons learned in class to actions students can take in the world at large to effect change.
The Importance of Equity in Education
One part of increasing equity and access in education involves identifying ways to get schools in lower-income neighborhoods the resources they need. In the meantime, though, educators can take specific measures in their classrooms to promote diversity and spur higher academic achievement in all learners by adjusting their instructional strategies.
Alyssa Abel is an education writer who focuses on emerging methodologies, effective learning and equitable education practices. Read more of her work on her blog, Syllabusy.