The Condition of Education: Equity or a Zero-Sum Game?
In Latin, the root word “equ” means equal, thus when thinking about equity we think about fairness. This interpretation runs counter to the economic principle of a Zero-Sum Game, “a situation in which one person or group wins something by causing another person or group to lose it”.* In education however, who wins and who loses?
According to a recent report by the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs, “The Calculus of Race and Class: A new look at the Achievement Gap in NYC Schools,” a review of 2016 Math scores by race and income in grades 3-5 highlights the sad reality that low-income Blacks and Latinos remain on the losing side of academic achievement.
We’ve seen it for years: higher performing schools in middle-income neighborhoods like Astoria and Long Island City are better resourced with powerhouse PTAs, while schools in low-income neighborhoods with more struggling learners get threatened with potential closure or state takeovers and never address the root causes of inequality—a zero-sum game.
If we are to think about Equity as a means towards academic achievement in schools we should not be thinking about a “have” and “have not” track, where some students at some schools receive arts or sports programming because its linked to academic achievement, or some school districts setting aside seats for a few students in underrepresented groups within each of the schools. The question that comes to mind is, is this really fair? Does this create equity, or does it further the notion that some will win and others will lose. Intentional or not, it seems that with all equity rhetoric, action in the form of funding schools with high need is still being stunted by the winners.
Zone 126 has worked with numerous partners for almost seven years to support both school based and neighborhood solutions because we believe that learning happens in a variety of locations. We have looked at our work through the equity lens from our very inception because we do not believe only the highest needs students need support, we believe all students in a school need the highest quality support to fit their individual needs. Rooted in the theory of Collective Impact, working collaboratively—as compared to the institutionalized silo approach— gets better results for Black, Latino and low-income students from cradle to career. In this context, Equity includes building a school culture—from the ground up, not the other way—that includes the voices of Black, Latino and low-income people in every aspect of decision-making on educational issues that affect students who struggle to learn. Maybe that will begin to level the playing field at its roots.
*Source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary
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