Why You Should Care About Education Equity

Usha Sekar
Apr 9, 2018 · 5 min read

#EducationEquity doesn’t have the of-the-moment popularity of “#globalwarming” or “#guncontrol”. A Google search for “education equity” came up with 14.1 million results, (contrast with 99.2 million for “global warming) with only Wikipedia definitions and articles from education orgs on the first page.

Nothing from HuffPo or NYT or BuzzFeed, or anything that might be click-worthy for the casual reader. Let’s see why we should care about education equity even though it is not part of the popular discourse.

What is it?

Now that we’ve established that it’s not a hot topic in media, we can understand why the afore-mentioned casual reader may not even know what “education equity” is all about.

Here’s a simple way to think of it: education equity ensures that all children have equal access to a high-quality education, with the understanding that “equal access” for all requires doing more for those who need additional support to get there due to socio-economic and other factors.

The key words to focus on here:

· All children

· Equal access

· High quality education

The “equity” comes into play to ensure that extra help is available for those children who need it to get to the “equal access” state.

Here’s a classic visual (apparently used by every writer/speaker on this topic) on the “equality” and “equity” difference — not everyone likes this graphic, but it does give a quick understanding of the varying needs.

At this point, you may be wondering why this is an issue at all. Weren’t there a bunch of acts and laws passed that took care of this? Yes but they’re not enough. There have been a lot of policy changes (see this super-detailed list including education-related events like patent for the ballpoint pen!) but state and school boards have more influence on local public schools than the federal government does.

So where the student goes to school, which is impacted greatly by the state laws as well the functioning of the school district, makes a huge impact on the quality of the education provided. To further complicate matters, socio-economic factors also weigh heavily on a child’s ability to effectively participate in learning — homelessness, hunger, unsafe and unstable environments are all barriers to education.

All of these lead to disparities in educational opportunities and hence the lack of equity.

Why should I care?

If you have a child of or close to school-going age, you’re probably actively making sure s/he gets the best possible education you can access and provide. And maybe you’re one of the lucky ones living in a very good school district. How does poor education quality a few districts away affect you? And if you don’t have children of school-going age, why should you care? After all, you’re paying taxes for public schools and shouldn’t that be enough?

You should care because education — even someone else’s — affects your quality of life. To understand how, let’s take a quick look at the impact of education.

For the individual, the impact of a quality education is obviously an increase in job opportunities, which leads to gains in income, housing, health (mental, emotional and physical) and social status, all of which leads to an increased sense of well-being.

The impact of education on society and a country would be pretty much the impact on the individual — amplified. The education of its population directly correlates to the overall strength of a country. (Though you probably accept all this as commonsense, if you’re comforted by data, dig in here and here.)

Employment and economic growth:

  • Improving education outcomes could result in national savings between $7.9 and $10.8 billion annually in public assistance, food stamps, and housing assistance.
  • Decreasing the number of high school dropouts by half would produce $45 billion per year in net economic benefit to society

Reduction in crime:

  • A 1 percent increase in male U.S. high school graduation rates would have amounted to a $1.4 billion benefit from reduced crime rates alone

Improved health

  • If every high school drop-out in 2004 had graduated, the savings in health costs to the public would have been $41.8 billion over their lifetime

On the flip side, it’s not difficult to deduce what a lack of quality educational opportunities could bring about. A growing education gap increases the income inequality which in turn leads to higher crime and violence, a dissatisfied, unhealthy and volatile population and an unstable society. Historically, dissatisfied and disenfranchised populations lead to chaos and revolutions.

Many would be moved just by the unfairness of educational inequities and would be willing to work to fix it. It also helps to keep in mind that gated communities and suburban enclaves are not proof against a failing economy and a fraying social fabric in the country. Regardless of where you live, the overall education of the population affects the entire country. Protecting your future and that of your children is a powerful reason why you should care about education equity. Not just caring enough to read an occasional article and include it in your next cocktail party conversation about the sorry state of education in fill-in-the-blank, but caring enough to do something about it.

But what can I actually do?

Luckily you don’t have to be throwing millions at the problem like the Gates Foundation or lobby to be the Secretary of Education to have impact. Education equity may be a national issue, but all you have to do is focus on the schools near you. Community efforts in schools have consistently improved educational outcomes.

In fact, that’s exactly what brought me to writing this, my first ever Medium story, as I believe this call for action would resonate with most readers. It’s also why I’m helping put together my first ever panel on community involvement in education, exploring ways for all members of the community to help their local schools. (If you’re in the area, come join us, it’s free!)

There you have it. Education equity will help ensure that all children have access to the kind of education that will make them citizens of a stable society in a thriving country. This is your society and your country — you can help ensure your future here is a good one.

Coming up in the next post — various avenues for meaningful engagement. Stay tuned!

Usha Sekar

Written by

I celebrate the extraordinary in the ordinary, and care about ideas, education, entrepreneurship, community and all that taps the humanity in each of us.

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