If Equity Is a Priority, Let’s Make It a Priority For Everybody | Joel Backon | 14 Min Read

August 10, 2023

I still appreciate the opportunities I had as a small child because my mother was a reading teacher. In kindergarten, Miss Brown ultimately turned over the responsibility for class reading in a circle to me. In third grade, we read assigned books independently, and when I completed the book and worksheet well before my classmates, Miss Beck told me, happily, that I would have the opportunity to read a supplemental SRA story each day. Alternatively, in second grade, we were each called on to read a paragraph in the “Dick and Jane” readers. I was consistently punished because I didn’t know where the previous student had left off. I had already finished the story, infuriating Mrs. Fogg because I would not read at the same pace as the rest of the class. These childhood memories suggest that two of my teachers embraced equity and one believed in absolute equality. The teachers influenced my vision of equity today.

On the surface, this sounds straightforward: equality is about providing the same pathways and materials to each student, regardless of background, ability, and mental and physical health. Public schools, stereotypically, are famous for moving an entire grade level of kids at the same pace, minimizing the fact that students do not learn at the same pace. The socially efficient solution is to track students based on their general learning speed and treat that tracking as a marker for future expectations. Those who cannot keep up become destined for low-paying jobs that require few skills. Those who struggle to keep up and/or come close are destined for a more skilled job that would allow them to succeed in the middle class. And those that keep up or exceed the pace are tracked for college and well-paid professions. Until recently, we rarely questioned those distinctions and viewed them as meritocratic realities. Now we wonder whether accidents of birth, upbringing, and luck should be factored into the equation. 

Certainly, some of my teachers did not treat everybody the same, just as parents don’t always treat their children the same. Perhaps they practiced equity, defined as providing each individual with what they need to be successful, regardless of their starting point or circumstances. Equity is also about recognizing and remedying historic and systemic inequalities to ensure that everyone has a fair and just chance at success. That’s a tall order for an educator. 

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Joel Backon

Joel Backon has been the Editor of Intrepid Ed News since its inception in January 2021, responsible for all educator content on the website. He joined the OESIS Network, owner of Intrepid, in 2019 as Vice President. Joel spent much of his career at Choate Rosemary Hall (CT) where for 27 years he held founding roles in Information and Academic Technology, as well as being a classroom teacher, curriculum designer, coach, dorm head, and student adviser. Prior to Choate, Joel spent 15 years in the printing and publishing industry educating printers on how to maximize their strengths and minimize weaknesses. He has crusaded to achieve consensus on the question of why we educate kids in an effort to meet the learning needs of every student.