Equity Is NOT Equality

6 May

You hear the word “equity” a lot. It sounds like “equality” so how could anyone be against it? “Equity” means equality of outcome, versus equality of opportunity. Why is that bad? Because humans don’t work that way.

You’ve seen the cute graphic of three kids trying to look over a fence; how equal opportunity (represented by boxes) still leaves one kid unable to see. But if you give the smaller kid two boxes, and the big kid no boxes, everyone can see just fine. Looks correct, doesn’t it? After all, everyone should be able to see the game, some people just need more help.

One of the books I keep on my bookshelf from my grad school days (and most of them have been exiled) is “Declining by Degrees,” which is the PBS companion book to the documentary they did fifteen years ago. Because it’s been out so long, you can watch it for free. However, what interested me was the book was full of essays from different educational experts and journalists, all asking the same question, “Why are standards declining in our universities? Why are graduates able to do less than those who graduated a generation before?” Many reasons were given, but the solution was always the same: “You need to give more money to schools.”

Hmmm… that did not sound right. After all, LA Unified School District spends $18,788 per student, and as anyone in LA will tell you, never send your kid to a LAUSD school. New York City spends $25,199 per student, as compared to a nationwide average of $12,201. Now that may just be because LA and NYC are simply more expensive. However, that still doesn’t completely explain why there worse test scores in places that the spend the most?

Maybe it’s because money has nothing to do with outcomes.

Another lifetime ago, I taught at a private boarding school overseas. So our student body was a self-selecting sample; parents who wanted to pay a LOT of money to send their kid to an isolated location for an American school in India. They wanted their kids to either a) get into a Western university and/or b) have a unique international experience. As a teacher, I could always tell which students would succeed and which wouldn’t. What was the difference? How often their parents checked in with them.

The best students had their parents calling every night… or every other night, checking on their homework, they showed up at the parent-teacher conferences even though it was a serious pain to get to twice a year. They came to take their kids out on the weekends every so often. The parents made sure they were still in their lives. The worst students had no contact apart from holidays. The saddest example was the student who didn’t want to go home because all they would be doing is sitting in an empty apartment with a maid to take care of them.

No amount of money will turn a failed student into a successful one. The only thing that will is having that student find someone else who gives a damn. It doesn’t have to be a parent; it can be a coach, a teacher, a challenging friend. Putting up more boxes to lift someone up doesn’t convince the kid to actually stand; what it does do is give money to people who make boxes.

But what do you think? Am I just too jaded? Are there worthy charities that really just need more money, but get diverted to less worthy ones. (Of course.) Let me know in the comments below! Then if you need a worthy place to put your money, buy one of my books! However, if $1.99 is if too much to “donate,” go ahead and download one of my stories for free. Thank you for your support.

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