Foundations of Education


Describes various forms of educational equity and inequities.

Key Concepts

  • equity
  • equality

Types of Educational Inequity

CREDIT: The text below is excerpted from: Seifert, Kelvin and Sutton, Rosemary. (2022). Chapter 4: Student Diversity. Educational Psychology: Open Education Resource LibreTexts. License: Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) License, URL: Book%3A_Educational_Psychology_(Seifert_and_Sutton)
In education, the term equity refers to the principle of fairness. While it is often used interchangeably with the related principle of equality, equity encompasses a wide variety of educational models, programs, and strategies that may be considered fair, but not necessarily equal…
📌 Within the Ontario context, the following example highlights the differences between educational equity and educational equality. As noted in Week 4 of the course, "per pupil funding [in Ontario's public schools] is not meant to be equal, as different school boards have different needs. But it is meant to provide equal educational opportunities for all students." For example, rural school boards may have a greater need for financial investments in internet connectivity as the technological infrastructure of rural communities may lag behind that found in urban communities. For this reason, rural school boards may receive more financial investments from the province in the area of technological infrastructure. () Although the financial support that rural vs. urban school districts may receive is not equal, it does aim to promote equity in terms of access to high speed internet and related technologies .
…Inequities occur when biased or unfair policies, programs, practices, or situations contribute to a lack of equality in educational performance, results, and outcomes. For example, certain students or groups of students may attend school, graduate, or enroll in post-secondary education at lower rates, or they may perform comparatively poorly on standardized tests due to a wide variety of factors, including inherent biases or flaws in test designs. The following are a few representative ways in which inequity may enter public education:

Societal Inequity: Minority [I.e., racialized] students may be disadvantaged by pre-existing bias and prejudice in American [and Canadian] society, with both conscious and unconscious discrimination surfacing in public schools in ways that adversely affect learning acquisition, academic achievement, educational aspirations, and post-graduation opportunities. While not always the case, inequity in education is most commonly associated with groups that have suffered from discrimination related to their race, ethnicity, nationality, language, religion, class, gender, sexual orientation, or disabilities...

Socioeconomic Inequity: Evidence suggests that students from lower-income households, on average, underperform academically in relation to their wealthier peers, and they also tend to have lower educational aspirations and enroll in college at lower rates (in part due to financial considerations). In addition, schools in poorer communities, such as those in rural or disadvantaged urban areas, may have comparatively fewer resources and less funding, which can lead to fewer teachers and educational opportunities - from specialized courses and computers to co-curricular activities and sports teams - as well as outdated or dilapidated school facilities.

Cultural Inequity: Students from diverse cultural backgrounds may be disadvantaged in a variety of ways when pursuing their education. For example, recently arrived immigrant and refugee students and their families may have difficulties navigating the public education system or making educational choices that are in their best interests. In addition, these students may struggle in school because they are unfamiliar with American [or Canadian] customs, social expectations, slang, and cultural references.

Familial Inequity: Students may be disadvantaged in their education due to their personal and familial circumstances. For example, some students may live in dysfunctional or abusive households, or they may receive comparatively little educational support or encouragement from their parents (even when the parents want their children to succeed in school). In addition, evidence suggests that students whose parents have not earned a high school or college degree may, on average, underperform academically in relation to their peers, and they may also enroll in and complete post-secondary programs at lower rates. Familial inequities may also intersect with cultural and socioeconomic inequities. For example, poor parents may not be able to invest in supplemental educational resources and learning opportunities - from summer programs to test-preparation services - or they may not be able pay the same amount of attention to their children’s education as more affluent parents - perhaps because they have multiple jobs, for example.

Programmatic Inequity: School programs may be structured in ways that are perceived to be unfair because they contribute to inequitable or unequal educational results for some students. For example, students of color [I.e., racialized students] tend, on average, to be disproportionately represented in lower-level classes with lower academic expectations (and possibly lower-quality teaching), which can give rise to achievement gaps or 'cycles of low expectation' in which stereotypes about the academic performance of minorities are reinforced and perpetuated because they are held to lower academic standards or taught less than their peers.

Staffing Inequity: Wealthier schools, located in more desirable communities, may be able to hire more teachers and staff, while also providing better compensation that attracts more experienced and skilled teachers. Students attending these schools will likely receive a better quality education, on average, while students who attend schools in less desirable communities, with fewer or less-skilled teachers, will likely be at an educational disadvantage. Staffing situations in schools may also be inequitable in a wide variety of ways. In addition to potential inequities in employment - e.g., minorities being discriminated against during the hiring process, female educators not being promoted to administrative positions at the same rates as their male colleagues - students may be disadvantaged by a lack of diversity among teaching staff. For example, students of color may not have educators of color as role models, students may not be exposed to a greater diversity of cultural perspectives and experiences, or the content taught in a school may be culturally limited or biased—e.g., history being taught from an exclusively Eurocentric point of view that neglects to address the perspectives and suffering of colonized countries or enslaved peoples.

Instructional Inequity: Students may be enrolled in courses taught by less-skilled teachers, who may teach in a comparatively uninteresting or ineffective manner, or in courses in which significantly less content is taught. Students may also be subject to conscious or unconscious favoritism, bias, or prejudice by some teachers, or the way in which instruction is delivered may not work as well for some students as it does for others.

Assessment Inequity: Students may be disadvantaged when taking tests or completing other types of assessments due to the design, content, or language choices, or because they have learning disabilities or physical disabilities that may impair their performance. In addition, situational factors may adversely affect test performance. For example, lower-income students who attend schools that do not regularly use computers may be disadvantaged - compared to wealthier students with more access to technology at home or students who use computers regularly in school - when taking tests that are administered on computers and that require basic computer literacy.

Linguistic Inequity: Non-English-speaking students [I.e., English-language learners], or students who are not yet proficient in English, may be disadvantaged in English-only classrooms or when taking tests and assessments presented in English. In addition, these students may also be disadvantaged if they are enrolled in separate academic programs, held to lower academic expectations, or receive lower-quality instruction as a result of their language abilities.