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Educator Paulette Chaffee Comments on the Importance of Understanding the Difference Between Equity and Equality in the Classroom

As Paulette Chaffee explains, schools must understand the differences between equity and equality to provide an inclusive learning environment.

Much is discussed regarding creating educational environments that provide equity and equality to all students. These two words are often used interchangeably, but as educator Paulette Chaffee explains, there are unique differences between them that must be understood if schools want to provide both to students.

Equality in the classroom is defined as providing the same opportunities, resources, and rights to all students. It's essential to provide equality in classrooms, of course, but it doesn't often address particular issues or needs students face.

For example, if a school provided every student in the classroom with a tablet to take home, it would be creating an equal environment. However, it wouldn't solve the problem of students who cannot access the Internet in their homes.

In this scenario, the school would be providing equality in the classroom but not equity.

That's because equity is much more personalized. When schools provide an equitable environment, they provide students with the resources that fit each individual's circumstances.

The National Society of High School Scholars explains the difference between equality and equity in a simple way. As the organization writes:

"Equity refers to an idea of fairness, while equality refers to an idea of sameness."

This is why Paulette Chaffee says that classrooms need to focus more on equity rather than equality. While "sameness" is important, to an extent, it's not as crucial as "fairness."

Prioritizing equity over equality is not simple, though. Providing equality is fairly straightforward, as in the above example of the tablets. Aside from the financial resources needed, it's not difficult for a classroom to provide every student with a tablet.

It is much more challenging, on the other hand, to ensure that every student can use the tablet at home with full access to the Internet.

The most prominent challenge schools often face is that students come from diverse backgrounds and demographics. This makes providing equitable resources to all students difficult.

Still, schools must address equity first and foremost to provide an inclusive environment for all students. Doing so requires paying individual attention to each student and catering the resources to their unique circumstances.

But schools often can't do this all on their own.

The classroom is only one part of the overall community. By working together with the community-at-large, schools can address all equity issues both inside and outside the classroom, so all students can have a fair and inclusive environment to learn.

About Paulette Chaffee
Paulette Chaffee is a teacher, speech therapist, and attorney deeply involved in the Fullerton community. As an educator and member of various non-profit boards, her focus has always been on providing children with the highest quality education. Ms. Chaffee holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Redlands, a California Lifetime Teaching Credential, and is admitted to the California Bar.

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