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Equity vs. Excellence

Thoughts on balancing equity and academic achievement

Photo of David Enders
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I am a.....

  • Community Coach

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While contemplating this challenge and sifting through the wonderful ideas posted by users on the platform, I have often picked up a struggle shared by many on the platform. In the education system as a whole, and especially during today's challenging times, educators and education designers are faced with a difficult question: how can equity be promoted without negatively impacting the quality of education students receive? It is doubtlessly vital to make sure that students do not receive a lesser education because of circumstances they can't control, economic or otherwise. However, if this means that every student is only given the level of education the most disadvantaged student can access, the overall level of education could be drastically reduced, as I tried to illustrate in my primitive graphic above. This leads us to the question: when do we prioritize equity, and when do we prioritize excellence or academic achievement? For example, when discussing the drawbacks of online education with a friend, he brought up the topic of his ceramics class. Back before schools shut down, this was a fun, interactive, hands-on class where students used clay and other materials provided by his university in order to express their creativity and complete interactive projects. Now, as schools have moved online, the students are instead instructed to write essays on art history, which is far from the intended purpose of the class, and not especially conducive to creative thinking or self-expression. My friend expressed his frustration at the downfall of this class, wishing that the teacher had instead provided optional projects they could work on at home, provided they could afford the necessary materials. In this case, those with the financial resources to purchase materials would have a superior learning experience, while those without them would continue to write essays on art history. However, if learning could quantitatively be measured, I am sure that the net learning value the ceramics students received would have been significantly higher in this case. How can we choose between these two unattractive scenarios? Is it unethical to let some students learn more, while others learn less? Or is it more unethical to stunt the learning potential of all the students? This is more of a discussion post than an idea, so I would love to hear your thoughts/ideas.

What part(s) of the pre-COVID school system do you wish to leave in the past? Why?

Nothing related to the discussion at hand.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to share this idea.

I am a recent high school student living in Palo Alto, California, and am also a community coach for this challenge. I have viewed many ideas and noticed this common, and somewhat troubling, theme, and wanted to share it in order to gain some more insight.

What region are you located in?

  • North America

Where are you located?

Palo Alto, CA—a suburb near San Francisco.

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