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10.1: How can we create equity in the classroom?

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    by: Anthony D. Richardson


    There are many avenues we can take toward equity in the school. We will discuss Culture, School Size, Gender, Learning, and Funding. Five important topics needed for equity in the classroom. Before you can fair assessment of anything a person faces, they must try to understand the what, when, why and how. Equity is what every Teacher, Principal, School Super Attendant, and Parent should strive for.


    Year 2024 will represent the 70th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954), the Supreme Court decision outlawing racial segregation in schools. Brown v. Board has been called the defining legal decision of the 20th century, framing as it did the United States’ struggle with issues of race and racial equality. In that decision, the justices clearly state that they were striking down segregation in public schools both to increase educational equity and to eliminate the racial stigma associated with segregation.

    Despite a wide range of efforts over the past 60 years, issues of racial and ethnic stigma and its relationship to identity and motivation remain central issues for those interested in creating racially equitable educational settings today. I argue that efforts to improve educational equity can only advance when a corresponding effort is made to reduce racial and ethnic stigma.

    In the 60 years since the first Brown decision, we have learned a great deal about both the value of diverse learning environments for student development and how to create effective diverse learning environments. Nevertheless, as we come to understand that the racial and ethnic stigma discussed in Brown continues to play a central role in modern educational outcomes and inequities, we can direct our reform efforts in productive ways.

    • First, teachers much acknowledge how deficit-based notions of diverse students continue to permeate traditional school thinking, practices, and placement, and critique their own thoughts and practices to ensure they do not reinforce prejudiced behavior.
    • Second, culturally relevant pedagogy recognizes the explicit connection between culture and learning, and sees students’ cultural capital as an asset and not a detriment to their school success.
    • Third, culturally relevant teaching is mindful of how traditional teaching practices reflect middle-class; European-American cultural values, and thus seeks to incorporate a wider range of dynamic and fluid teaching practices outcomes through the amelioration of stigma


    Culture ... impacts our lives by determining what is important and what is not,what makes sense and what does not. The culture then makes these constructions available to the young and to new initiates for appropriation and use in transforming their participation in that culture. Learning, then, becomes a matter of changes in one's relation to the culture(s) to which one is connected.


    A large-scale quantitative study using nationally representative and longitudinal data attempted to identify the ideal size of a high school, based on student learning. The study explored these issues for about 10,000 students in 800 public and private schools in the United States. Although most research on this topic has been framed within a "bigger versus smaller" mode, the objective here was to estimate an appropriate balance point between student learning and school size. Achievement gains in mathematics and reading over the course of high school were found to be largest in middle-sized high schools (600-900 students). Schools of this size were also favored in terms of social equity, in that they had weaker relationships between student socioeconomic status (SES) and achievement. Lee and Smith also found that even though the same "ideal size" was consistent across schools identified by their average SES and minority concentrations, school size was a more important factor in determining learning in schools enrolling more disadvantaged students.

    Investigating the effects of school size in Chicago's (K-8) elementary schools, another study also found favorable effects for smaller schools in terms of student learning and teachers' willingness to take responsibility for their students' learning. Although without exception, teachers and students reported that social relations were more personal in the smaller high schools; this was not always seen as a benefit. A few students in the smaller high schools reported that they were unable to "live down" the negative reputations of their older siblings or even parents. Some teachers in such schools had to work hard to keep a modicum of privacy.

    Sociological theory suggests that human interactions and ties become more formal as organizations grow. Organizational growth generates new bureaucratic structures, as connections between individuals become less personal. These structures can inhibit communal organization. This general theory has been confirmed in research identifying the organizational characteristics of effective schools. In school climate studies, for example, size operates as an ecological feature of the social structure, part of the physical environment that influences the nature of social interactions. In general, the sociological evidence about high schools suggests that social relations are generally more positive in smaller schools.


    As young people move into adolescence, they begin to explore gender roles. Finding their way through this potential minefield is complicated and challenging for middle school students. The process of determining the variations in masculinity and femininity is largely a social function, not a biological one. What it means to be a man, and what it means to be a woman, is communicated to children by all the adults in a child's life, including teachers.

    Boys and girls create very distinct cultures; when they are in same-gender groups they act and play very differently.  Teachers need to understand these differences and be purposeful in the treatment of each so as to send the healthiest messages to adolescents.

    In 1992 the American Association of University Women (AALUW) published a groundbreaking study about how schools were not meeting the needs of young girls. Their schools shortchanged girls in many ways: when questioned in class, girls were less likely to receive a prompt to clarify thinking if they answered incorrectly; boys were more regularly called on, and if not, they were just as likely to shout out an answer, leaving girls to sit quietly; and girls were not encouraged to take advanced math and science classes (AAUW 1992). Perhaps not surprisingly, then, in their middle school years, girls stopped being successful in math and science.

    So what do we do? The first thing is to become aware of the differences between genders. Once these differences are explained and accepted, educators must be proactive in the way boys and girls are treated in schools. Indeed, there are distinct advantages to educating boys and girls together appropriately, for in doing so, each gender will begin to see how the other thinks, feels, responds, and reacts. Such understanding is in itself a major goal for gender-friendly classrooms.

    We should also consider the nature of the differences between boys and girls. Creating a gender-friendly classroom does not mean that you create gender-specific activities, divide your classroom, or even insist on single-sex classes. Students should at some times have an opportunity to work in a gender-matched activity, while at other times they should learn to function in a more typical gender-mismatched one. This allows students to experience instructional times that are more comfortable for students when the activities are matched to their nature. But they also learn to function outside that comfort area when they are in a mismatched situation, and thus strengthen weaker areas.

    For teachers the imperative is to learn about the differences in gender. Teachers need to accept that learning occurs differently for each gender, and to measure out activities and experiences that favor one some of the time, and the other some of the time. Keep in mind that although some girls may be more linguistically advanced than boys, some boys are just as advanced. Although some boys manipulate objects well and see patterns better than girls, some girls are headed toward engineering schools. When boys see girls appropriately modeling relationship behaviors, the boys learn how to be more sensitive and open. Likewise, when girls see the appropriate use of assertiveness that boys learn early, the girls see that this can be used to their advantage as well.


    Human beings, in our conscious hours at least, are always learning. We cannot do otherwise; learning is an involuntary human activity. What varies among us is what we learn, how our learning is put to use and reinforced, and what learning is valued by a particular group of people at a particular time—our education. The result is that, while everyone learns, some learn to survive and some learn to thrive.

    Unfortunately, access to the learning experiences that help people to thrive, though these depend on context, are not equally or equitably available to everyone. And although there may be value in all types of learning experiences, a deep understanding in the field of education of the range of learning experiences available to people who thrive is the first step toward ensuring adequate access to these experiences for all.

    Schools, then, are only one of society's educative institutions. Although schools may be the most widely recognized of such institutions, a theory of education must encompass not just a theory of schooling but also a theory of the relation of various educative interactions and institutions with one another and to the members of the society at large. And a vision of educational equity must become a vision of providing access not just to schooling but also to these other resources.

    Holistic approach to learning

    • High quality early childhood education programs
    • Rigorous and challenging curricula for all students
    • High quality teaching
    • Effective, sustained educational leadership
    • Appropriate class sizes
    • Mental and physical health care services
    • Appropriate academic support for English language learners
    • Appropriate academic support for special education students
    • Appropriate academic support for children in areas of highly concentrated poverty
    • Effective after-school, community, and summer programs
    • Effective parental involvement and family support
    • Policies that foster racially and economically diverse schools


      Throughout the United States, wide performance gaps exist between poor and minority students and their peers in other groups. The inequities that result in those performance gaps carry enormous costs, not only for the children and families involved, but for the nation as a whole. The annual price tag of inadequately educating our young people is staggering, in the realm of $250 billion per year in health and welfare costs, criminal justice expenses, and lost tax revenues. The heavy toll on the social and civic fabric of the nation is an additional, inestimable price that we all pay every year.

      If we are to meet the global economic challenges of an increasingly "flat world," if we are to prepare our students to be capable civic participants in our democratic society, and if we are to fulfill the moral imperative of ensuring that a child's racial/ethnic, socioeconomic, or family background no longer predicts that child's educational attainment or level of achievement, we need a comprehensive approach to educational equity that attends to the full array of factors that affect educational opportunity.

      Since late in the 20th century, there has been a burgeoning of initiatives, programs, projects, and activities that fall under the umbrella of what we are calling "comprehensive educational equity" by seeking to integrate education and supports and services in other areas that enhance students' abilities to succeed.

      A wide range of institutions, from federal and state governments to national and local foundations, to individual schools, carries out some type of "comprehensive educational equity" effort. The delivery models employed include community, full-service, and extended schools; comprehensive early childhood programs; school-linked services projects; school-community partnerships; private interagency commissions; family support and education programs; integrated-services initiatives; comprehensive community initiatives; and state programs and broad national legislation.

      Within these models, individual efforts have varying goals, rationales, methodologies, scopes, participants, scales, and time frames. The proliferation of these efforts provides a rich and complex field of study for potential models, best practices, and policy direction on which to build. Their many variations point to challenges for study, evaluation, and replication.


      Equity in the class room is not an easy task, but a necessity. As we continue to create equity in our classrooms were contributing and enhancing peoples lives. We are better equipping students, parents, communities, America, and the World. We must recognize what is going on with our students by communicating with them in order to make the right assessment. We as educators must think outside the box. Times are changing so the way we educate must change as well.


    Edmund, W., Gordon, M., Rebeell A. (2007) Toward a Comprehensive System of Education for All Children. Teachers College Record, 109 no.7, 1836–43

    Lee, V., Ready, D., Welner, K. (2004) Education Equity and School Structure: School Size, Overcrowding, and School-Within-School. Teachers College Record, 106 no.10, 1989-2014

    David, K. (2006) Boys and Girls Together: A Case for Creating Gender-Friendly Middle School Classrooms. The Clearing House, 79 no.6, 247-51

    Hertzog, N. (2005) Equity and Access: Creating General Education Classrooms Responsive to Potential Giftedness. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 29 no.2 213-57

    Shutkin, D. (2004) Thinking of the Other: Constructivist Discourse and Cultural Difference in the Field of Educational Technology. Journal of Educational Thought, 38 no.1 67-93

    Zirkel, S. (2005) Ongoing Issues of Racial and Ethnic Stigma in Education 50 Years after Brown v. Board. The Urban Review, 37 no.2 107-26