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Everybody Supports ‘Equity,’ But How Do They Define It?

Pursuing equity—however it’s defined—has become a rallying cry for K-12 educators and advocates alike. More than half of America’s 50 million students today are nonwhite, and a growing number of them are English-language learners or students with special needs. There are widespread and well-documented disparities between the educational needs of these student groups and their classroom peers.

Policymakers, researchers, district administrators, and teachers have taken it upon themselves to push for “equity” between student groups. At professional conferences, in school posters, at administrative headquarters, and in school board’s vision statements, equity usually is understood to eradicate those disparities or make “equal” academic outcomes between all student groups. It has also come to mean equal access to gifted programming, high-quality teachers, and high-quality curriculum.

But in the purely fiscal world, the word “equity” has a much muddier, complicated—and legally fraught—definition. And the issue is likely to come under renewed scrutiny with the Every Student Succeeds Act’s new requirement for public release of school-by-school spending data as an element of states’ school report cards.