Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Why Equity can be a bad word for Education

By on February 11, 2010

As well intentioned as it is, the goal of equity in all branches of education is doing a disservice to the goal of, well, equity. I’m searching for a word here. Maybe I need to make one up. I need a word for “the negative solution that results in the attempts to be equitable.” Hmmm….Neguity? We’ll go with that for now.

We in education banter the word equity about like it’s this golden chalice, but is trying to achieve it 100% of them time in the best interest of our students? I’m starting to think not.

After all, a teacher who wants to start a new club, pitch a program, even just work hard to keep his or her job, is disallowed from investing in themselves because we are shackled by a system set up to reward people based on their hire date, not on their achievements, ability, or effort.

As adults, our equity should be in our opportunities to show how well we can do our job. We should all be given the same chance to do our job well, to contribute to our school community, to help our students achieve.

But in this day and age, when student achievement is so vital and we so struggle to be taken seriously as a profession, I find myself perplexed by this need to be equitable.

Because this concept of neguity appears all over the place in education. I’ll share some examples from my own site:

For one thing, there’s the seniority list that is present in every district. At lunch, for instance, I peered over the shoulder of the person in front of me as she clutched the seniority list. We know there are layoffs coming and the circled names on the list are those who are threatened. Some are great teachers, hard working teachers. My two teachers who I mentored for BTSA are circled, even though one has become a Fellow of the Writing Project since her hire, and between the two of them, they’ve brought History Day, Peer Helpers, and Girls Volleyball to our school.

So we are watching great teachers be bumped from schools by possibly lesser colleagues whose only claim to fame was that they were hired a year before. It is a system that is set up to reward “good enough” with the same equity as “blood, sweat, and tears.” The resulting neguity disallows a school or district to create a staff that is made up of the best candidates it can score. Thus, this has become bad for students.

A lesser example is the fact that I cannot speak to students and pitch my elective program because a couple of teachers do not feel comfortable talking to students about theirs. The result is neguity, because now students will not be given the chance to make decisions with all the knowledge at their disposal.

There is also an issue about pullout collaboration time and professional development on my site. With limited funds, we were told that there would be no collaboration time next year because there was no way to be equitable to all departments. But many of my Language Arts teachers asked, “How is our work load equitable?” And they have a point. You cannot compare the workload of a core teacher to that of a PE teacher. You cannot compare the time it takes to grade 200 essays to the time it takes to run 200 scantrons through a machine.

So why can’t equity be a more fluid thing? The result, instead, is neguity. No support for those who really need it in the name of fair-and-balanced.

So when did education’s commitment to giving students equity, minors who cannot fend for themselves, also mean that we needed to grant it to teachers, any teachers, all teachers? When did teachers begin insisting that they get treated the same, despite different workloads, despite different efforts, and despite different outcomes?

The result is neguity: rewarding those who don’t work hard for the school community as much reward as those who do, But still many people propose we assess teachers based on test scores, a process which is hugely inequitable. As is school funding, how funds are allocated between states and districts, and the fact that some students are still not being given equal opportunities. Is this not neguity too? Or is it just inconsistent, arbitrary uses of the concept of equity?

What does it gain when a teacher who works hard is not rewarded over a teacher who doesn’t? What does this encourage? We as adults all have the right to work hard. We all have a right to have our achievement speak for itself, our efforts and our dedication speak for itself.

If civilizations cut down the contributors who aspired and reached and dreamed and pushed, all because not everyone wanted to be that level of contributor, that civilization would remain stagnant. So is it true for education.

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