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September 17, 2019

This Tricky Thing Called Equity (in education)

The word equity is thrown around a lot when talking about the transformation of schools to better serve students. There is no consensus on what equity in education is BUT I’m going to try to explore the subject with you here. Let’s geaux….

Equity vs. Equality

Before we go further, it’s important to clarify the difference between equity and equality. Equality is when everyone gets the same thing. For example, if I had $50 to give away to a group of five people, equality would be each person getting $10. On the other hand, Equity builds on a foundational premise that some folk are at a larger disadvantage than others AND considerations must be made to correct for the disadvantages. So, if I had the same $50 to give away to a group of five people, equity might dictate that one person, who is an unemployed, single parent, get $40; three folks, who are employed teenagers, get $3 each and one person, who is only trying to get extra change for a bus ride, get $1. Same $50, Same five people but…different outcomes in resource distribution.

Make sense?

Why do We Need Equity in Education?

I’m glad you asked. Consider these five (5) points:

  1. Nearly 400 years ago, In 1642, the Massachusetts Bay Colony made “proper” education compulsory; The schools were all male and all white, with few facilities for girls. Although these schools were publicly supplied at the local (town) level, they were not free. Students’ families were charged tuition or “rate bills.”
  2. Some 80 years later, the earliest continually operating school for girls in the United States, the Catholic Ursuline Academy of New Orleans was founded by the Sisters of the Order of Saint Ursula. The Academy graduated the first female pharmacist, and the first woman to write a book of literary merit. This was the first free school and first retreat center for young women. It was the first school to teach free women of color, Native Americans, and female African-American slaves. In the region, Ursuline provided the first center of social welfare in the Mississippi Valley; and it was the first boarding school for girls in Louisiana, and the first school of music in New Orleans.
  3. Tax-supported schooling for girls did not begin until 1767 in New England. It was optional and some towns proved reluctant to support this innovation.
  4. 200+ years AFTER compulsory education in the U.S. and nearly 100 years after tax-supported schooling for white women, In the early days of the Reconstruction era, the Freedmen’s Bureau opened 1,000 schools across the South for black children. This was essentially building on schools that had been established in numerous large contraband camps. Freedmen were eager for schooling for both adults and children, and the enrollments were high and enthusiastic. Overall, the Bureau spent $5 million to set up schools for blacks. By the end of 1865, more than 90,000 freedmen were enrolled as students in these schools. The school curriculum resembled that of schools in the North.
  5. Fast forward to just 88 years ago, the U.S. education system was still mainly white male focused, and the reality was that only 13.5% of the U.S. adult population had graduated from high school and only 2.7% had completed 4 years of college; “In rural and small town America, one room, multi-graded school houses were the norm, typically presided over by a young (unmarried) woman who had herself attended no more than high school or the semi-college teacher prep institutions known as “normal schools”. 

As I shared earlier, Equity builds on a foundational premise that some folk are at a larger disadvantage than others AND considerations must be made to correct for the disadvantages. I can go deeper BUT I hope you can agree, from the points above, that women and black people in the United States were disadvantaged by our public education system, from the beginning.

If you are following us on Twitter and Instagram [ @UrbanEd] you should be able to see that public schools in Baton Rouge are inequitable, if not downright negligent, when it comes to educating black and brown children. [follow #EBREnglishandMath to see evidence]. 

Who is responsible for equity in schools? (Wow, you ask the best questions! ☺)

The simple answer is that YOU are responsible for equity in schools!!! You Elect East Baton Rouge Parish School Board members + members of the Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) + Louisiana State Legislators (Senators and Representatives). These elected humans are accountable to YOU for making sure schools are operated in a way that makes special considerations for individuals and groups of folks that start with a disadvantage; to be direct, black students in Baton Rouge.

Locally, our School Board, hires a Superintendent of schools and the Superintendent hires and manages staff…these folks are accountable to YOU for making sure schools are operated in a way that makes special considerations for individuals and groups of folks that start with a disadvantage; to be direct, black students in Baton Rouge.

Following me?

#WisdomWednesday = You can fulfill your responsibility to ensure equity in education over the next six months. This Fall we have elections for members of the Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) and Louisiana Legislature [Election Date is October 12th]. In the months following the elections, the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board will be selecting a new Superintendent of Schools. You should participate in this selection process. WILL YOU SHOW UP to ensure there is EQUITY in schools in Baton Rouge?

P.S. This might be a good event to attend leading up to the elections in October.

RSVP Here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-state-of-public-education-in-louisiana-a-candidate-forum-tickets-68167580067

Raymond Allmon
Raymond Allmon
Raymond is best known as Kris and Kaleb’s dad. He is a longtime proponent for education transformation and has been a resident of Baton Rouge, Louisiana for over 35 years. Raymond traces his fight for education back to his middle school years at Prescott Middle School. His path took him from Dougherty Drive (the street at the main entrance to Howell Park), to Prescott Middle, Scotlandville Magnet High School, Dillard University and Louisiana State University, where he graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and Mass Communications and Master’s Degree in Public Administration.

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