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  • Writer's pictureDr. Ericka Johnson-Allen

That’s Equal...But It’s Not Fair: Injury vs. Treatment

When presenting to groups on equity, I sometimes begin with a journal-writing assignment: “Imagine what it would be like to live in a world where everyone is treated the same no matter what? Is this a world you would want to live in? Why or why not? After reflection and discussion, I proceed to the band-aid activity (I have adapted the activity for adults). Instantly, participants begin to see the difference between equality and equity. The gist is: You can’t expect a band-aid to heal all injuries. A band-aid may be the proper treatment for a minor cut, but not for a broken arm. The treatment may be equal, but that doesn’t make it fair.

So exactly what is the difference between equality and equity? Equality is equal, equity is fair. Equality ensures the same for everyone, with no account for individual circumstances. Equity goes much farther than equality. Equitable decisions ensure people get what they need to be successful, even if it is not the same for everyone. Equality doesn’t typically harm; it just doesn’t provide enough.

Here are some practical comparisons to better understand the difference between equality and equity, or what’s equal, and what is fair.

Equal is: Everyone receives a pair of shoes.

Fair is: Everyone receives a pair of shoes that fit.

Equal is: Everyone receives the same amount of pay.

Fair is: Everyone receives pay based on their demonstrated performance, experience, etc.

Equal is: Every student who lives within a 2-mile radius is provided free transportation to and from school.

Fair is: Transportation is offered to students who may encounter known dangers to get to and from school.

Equal is: Saying, “I treat all kids the same.”

Fair is: Saying, “I don’t treat all kids the same, I give them what they need to be successful.”

Making an equitable decision takes more thought, time, and, effort. Equity is intangible. It is often difficult to observe and even more difficult to measure. Equality is measurable and tangible, most often concrete and usually accomplished by “checking the boxes”. Equality doesn’t require a heavy lift.

Think about it like this…if you give every student a free laptop computer to access on-line virtual lessons, but she has no internet service at home, is that equal? Is it fair? So was this practice equitable? Here is another thought, A family has 5 school-aged children at home, do you send 5 devices home, one for each student? What is the equitable decision? Who was included in the decision-making process? Equity is not easy, but it is necessary.

Inequities produce injuries. Injuries are painful, but typically they are not life-threatening. Injuries are temporary obstacles that impede success. Injured people are expected to have a full recovery, within a given amount of time, with the proper treatment. However, some injuries need more than a band-aid to heal and function as expected. But, there is good news, with the proper treatment we can provide equitable solutions, not only to societal injustices but to educational obstacles as well.

Equity in education is not only equal, but it is also fair and inclusive. It is simply a supportive learning environment, cultivated in excellence, where all children have fair access and opportunity to perform despite personal or social circumstances (inequities). Equity in education is a measure of achievement, fairness, and opportunity with 2 very distinct attributes:

Fairness: when personal or social circumstances such as gender, ethnic origin, or family background are not obstacles to achieving educational potential

Inclusion: when all individuals reach at least a minimum level of competencies

Equitable schools have supportive learning environments. Supportive learning environments feel, look, and sound much different than traditional schools. These schools support collaboration, community engagement, and have a strong focus on building relationships. They also focus on excellence by ensuring access to opportunities that may be inaccessible outside of school. Equitable schools are aware of the personal and social circumstances that face both the children and the community they serve. These schools treat the “injury” of each child. They don’t haphazardly give each child the same treatment plan.

School leaders can start and continue creating equity through excellence at their school by asking the right questions about injuries and treatment.

“Injury” Questions:

What injuries are children bringing to your school?

What injuries are teachers bringing to your school?

What injuries am I as the leader bringing to the school?

“Treatment” Questions:

Did everyone receive the same treatment? (Equal)

Did everyone get what they needed to ensure success? (Fair)

Was the treatment equal or fair?

In a word, be fair. Equitable access to hope is the charge for all school leaders. This is accomplished by removing the barriers to access and opportunities. Ensuring that all students are successful is what equitable school leaders do differently, despite student limitations. Equitable leaders make sure that the treatment is designed to heal the injury. #Imaginethat #equitythroughexcellence

Dr. Ericka Johnson-Allen is renowned for her unparalleled work in leadership and school transformation. Known for her Imagine That School Transformation Model she consistently produces double-digit student growth in 1 year. Dr. EJA currently serves as a superintendent for ResponsiveEd where she oversees nearly 20 schools throughout Texas, and CEO and Founder of Imagine That Consulting. She is co-host of Vulnerable Voices, a weekly podcast where she has real conversations with real leaders, about issues in the Black community.

Comments or Questions? Want to share your educational experience with COVID? I cordially invited you to reach out! All respectful, on-topic comments are welcome.

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