In the last twenty-five years our awareness of the impact of issues related to race/ethnicity, gender and physical disability on educational opportunity and participation has grown dramatically. While much progress has been made, with that progress has come new and different problems. Yesterdays assumptions and solutions have moved us to where we are today and given us a foundation on which to address todays issues. However if we adhere unquestioningly to those assumptions and solutions, they can become todays problems.
Questioning our own assumptions and the solutions based on those
assumptions has moved us away from the idea of educational equity as a separate
concept to the idea that high quality education must include all. The
following provides an overview of the thinking behind this change and what it
might mean for future work.
We no longer believe it is enough to provide equal opportunity and access to mathematics and science education for all students. As important as opportunity and access are, the focus must be on outcomes. All students--independent of their race/ethnicity, gender or physical disability--must attain strong mathematics and science skills. An educational system that can not do this, is not of high quality, no matter how well some percentage of its students achieve.
We do not believe that equal treatment for all students is the path to high quality. Different children learn differently and may need different instructional strategies for each of them to be successful in mathematics and science. However, these different needs cannot be used as an excuse to track students in or out of advanced mathematics and science. Not all students will achieve at the same level, however in a high quality school, differences in achievement will not be based on race/ethnicity, gender or physical disability. If students achievement can be predicted by their gender, race/ethnicity or physical ability, then the system is inequitable and must be changed.
When the focus of equity is on treatment, there is a resulting emphasis on process--on what is being done, on doing the "right" program, on acting the "right" way, or on using the "right" strategy. While how things are done is important, results are of greater importance. Process is not an end in itself. Rather understanding process is a way to help determine why things do and dont work and to improve results. There is no one "right" way to treat students or to teach science and mathematics. There are many different ways to effectively reach students.
When accountability is based on outcomes, it becomes everyones responsibility. The equity specialist continues to play an important role, especially in the dissemination of knowledge and resources. However the responsibility for equity, for high quality, for achievement of all students, does not belong to the equity specialist. It belongs to the teachers and the principal and their performance evaluation should be based on the degree to which they meet their responsibility.
Special programs need to become laboratories for trying out new ideas, rather than providing remediation or "enrichment" for some under served students. Instructional strategies for reaching all students with high quality content needs to be a part of every classroom, not a pull-out, after school or lunch program for a few students.
The consequences of failure have tended to fall on students. When schools and students fail, students dont learn and, because of that lack of learning, are limited in their lives. Some have believe that failure is inevitable for particular students, especially those of color or from low income backgrounds, and thus it isnt the educators "fault". However, while failure will continue to have the strongest impact on students; teachers, principals and whole schools should, and increasingly do, suffer consequences of failure through negative evaluations, pay cuts, dissolution of schools or even loss of tenure.
An essential component of equity efforts has been to break down participation and achievement data by race and gender. Until that information was available, the size, or even existence, of problems was not clear. For example data reporting how African American boys or Latina girls are doing in Algebra gives us important information about both groups. It continues to be important to collect this data, to see if things changes over the years, to help us understand what is behind positive and negative changes and to determine what strategies are reducing gender and race gaps while all students gain.
Perhaps researcher Walter Secada1 said it best: "Full participation in our most cherished democratic institutions, projections for civilian workforce and military needs and shifts in our countrys and the worlds economic systems all point to the need for everyone--not just for a few--to posses more and different mathematical and scientific literacy than is currently made available in the schools."
1 Secada, Walter. (1992). Race, ethnicity, social class, language and achievement in mathematics. In Douglas Girouws, (ed.) Handbook of Research on Mathematics Teaching and Learning. New York: Macmillan, pp 623-624.
© 1998, Patricia B. Campbell and Nancy Kreinberg. All Rights Reserved
The Collaboration for Equity is a joint project of American Association for the Advancement of Science, Education Development Center, Inc., Campbell-Kibler Associates, Inc., Girls Incorporated, Nancy Kreinberg, founding director of EQUALS and Dr. Beatriz Chu Clewell. For further information contact Yolanda George (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Patricia B. Campbell (email@example.com).
Illustration by Judy Butler.