Equity is not a new problem for schools, but it has been brought to the forefront of discussion this past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic closing the doors of schools across America. Since classrooms transitioned online at the beginning of 2020, discussions of the increasing equity gap in school districts have dominated education headlines.
Today, as districts invest in education technology and deploy resources with the latest stimulus funding, it’s crucial that administrators and teachers consider student populations with limited access to technology and infrastructure. The equity gap will continue to widen if districts ignore these important contextual factors, such as students who lack adequate internet access or don’t have computers at home.
What is Equity?
At first thought, people may think equity and equality are the same, but the concepts are different. Equality deals with giving everyone the same resources, but equity means giving resources based on the needs of the recipient, as defined by writer Ellen Gutoskey.
The equity gap occurs when there is a significant disparity in educational attainment among major demographic groupings, such as race, socioeconomic and gender. Teacher shortages, lack of technology and good infrastructure can be some of the largest barriers in the way of districts wanting to close their equity gaps.
For example, equality could entail giving all students laptops. This can be problematic because not all students have the infrastructure, such as high-quality internet, at home to be able to use the laptop to its fullest advantage as other students can. Equity would entail giving these students additional resources, like access to a high-quality internet, to succeed using technology.
The equity gap exists among teachers as well, according to a study by Erik Kormos and Liliana Julio. They found that minority teachers in urban schools are twice as likely to not have received adequate training with technology or have acquired sufficient enough content area expertise to be able to design and utilize educational technology in their instruction.
At Proximity Learning, we define equity as all students having the same access to high-quality teachers and resources. No matter the county or city, we believe that students everywhere should have equitable access to the education they deserve.
Why is Equity important?
In 2010, the United States Department of Education declared that “technology is at the core of virtually every aspect of our daily lives in work, and we must leverage it to provide engaging and powerful learning experiences and content.”
In the realm of online education, closing the equity gap is crucial to ensuring that all students are receiving high-quality education and are on track to succeed after their K-12 education. This involves giving students access to quality and interactive content, teachers with strong and specific pedagogical skills, training, strong mentorship and scaffolding opportunities, according to a study conducted by Rachel Walley and Michael K. Barbour.
With the COVID-19 pandemic causing schools across the nation to switch to virtual learning, districts must consider first if they are providing equitable learning opportunities. Students of color and students living in rural households have been less able to adapt to the requirements of remote learning due to not having access to the necessary technology to succeed, according to a study conducted by Stephen J. Aguilar.
In the study, Aguilar cited that school districts have invested about $8.4 billion on educational technology products during the 2017-2018 school year. Aguilar said districts were hopeful that these investments would improve student outcomes, but, unfortunately, new technologies can create barriers for students of lower-income. New expectations to complete homework online introduced new challenges for students without the technology at home to do so, for example.
It’s too soon to see the long-term consequences of these lost learning opportunities, Aguilar said. But, educators and school administrators need to begin understanding the challenges faced by the students they serve – especially when investing in education technology.
Solving the Equity Gap
Kormos and Julio found that rural schools are more impacted by teacher vacancies than their suburban and urban counterparts. Since these rural communities feature a higher percentage of English language learners and students with special needs, education technology is necessary to help close the equity gap. For example, these student populations could benefit greatly from the visual learning that video-sharing provides, the study found.
With our Enriched Live Instruction Model (ELIM), we strive to create a more equitable learning environment in school districts through live-streamed teaching while educating students on the technological skills they need
We’ve helped schools in rural regions overcome their teacher shortages and provide their students with high-quality teachers comparable to their suburban neighbors. In Fayette County Public Schools, we worked to ensure they had greater access to a wider range of technology despite being a rural community. By doing so, hundreds of their students began learning the standards needed to succeed at their future college and careers.
“I don’t have to worry about a student not having access to high-quality instruction every single day with Proximity. That gap is already closed,” said Dr. Marlon D. King, Fayette County Public Schools superintendent. “When we begin to close that gap, we’re able to not only close the gap in providing high-quality instruction but close the gap in student achievement, where students in [the rural] context can still be just as successful as students in the suburban context.”
In other districts, we’ve placed our highly experienced teachers to teach courses that the school had never had access to before so their students could pursue new learning opportunities and prepare for life after K-12 education. At Richmond Heights High School in Ohio, we provided qualified instructors to teach Spanish and French to help the school achieve its goal of expanding its curriculum so students could receive an equitable opportunity to grow globally.
In some schools, our teachers have been simultaneously used as mentors for their teaching staff. Our teachers go through an extensive training process before they teach their first online class to ensure that students are receiving a high-quality education. At Wyoming County Schools, many teachers were coming in from untraditional backgrounds and needed help learning how to teach. We provided teachers to instruct approximately 520 of their students while also helping their facilitators at the schools grow in their understanding of effective teaching techniques and classroom management skills.
To obtain the best results of synchronous online education, teachers need to be trained in technology and the skills necessary to teach virtually. Once they are confident, they will be able to reach and interact with students from across the globe and provide them with the learning opportunities they need.
For students who need help outside of the classroom, summer school and high-dosage tutoring are great options to prevent regression and for providing students with extra learning opportunities. With summer school, students can still be in a live class with a teacher and engage with classmates during lessons. With high-dosage, or one-on-one, tutoring, teachers can customize their instruction and tackle the specific learning needs of the student.
Online education can be powerful in closing the equity gap when done properly. By live-streaming high-quality, certified teachers into classrooms, any student can engage with and receive personalized lessons from the passionate teacher they deserve.