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What is Equity in Education?

Public schools are not created equal. If passing news headlines, ballot measures in your community, or conversations with friends and colleagues have left you wondering what’s going on with inequity in our nation’s school system, read on.


Public schools are not created equal. If passing news headlines, ballot measures in your community, or conversations with friends and colleagues have left you wondering what’s going on with inequity in our nation’s school system, read on. Here’s your Equity in Education primer – and what you can do to make a difference.

What is Equity?

Let’s be sure we’re all starting with the same definition:

eq·​ui·​ty justice according to natural law or right; specifically: freedom from bias or favoritism

In other words, equity is an even playing field for everyone.

What Does Equity in Education Mean?

Equity in education means that all teachers and all students have access to the same school supplies that their peers do.

Where a kid lives shouldn’t affect how likely it is that their library has a full set of up-to-date history books, a working computer, and enough paper and pencils to last the school year.

Through extensive research, the team at DonorsChoose developed two criteria to identify schools most likely to have below-average access to resources (we call these Equity Focus Schools): 

  1. At least 50% of students are Black, Latino, Native American, Pacific Islander, or multiracial and
  2. At least 50% of students qualify for free or reduced price lunch, the standard measure for school economic need.

What Creates Inequity in Education?

Schools across the country vary greatly in their ability to provide adequate resources for teachers and students. Some of this is entrenched in decades of complicated legislation, some of this is due to deep-rooted economic disparity – and all of it is unfair to students and their teachers.

$23 Billion funding gap

Segregation (racial and economic) very much exists.

And segregation
+ gerrymandered school district boundaries
+ overallocation of resources to districts with fewer students
= major inequities in funding.

It’s because of these factors that school districts serving mostly students of color get $23 billion less in state and local funding each year — in other words, $2,266 less per student compared to school districts with mostly White students. When we translate that stat from dollars to supplies and experiences, we get a profound deficit in exposure, access, and empowerment that affects students far into their college and career paths.

Teacher out-of-pocket spending

For every $100 of their own money a teacher serving mostly White students spends, a teacher serving mostly students of color spends $131. This on-average 31% difference means teachers serving mostly students of color very likely get access to fewer resources from their schools. Out-of-pocket spending is one big reason teachers are leaving the profession at alarming rates, decreasing the number of qualified and experienced teachers in classrooms nationwide.

What Are the Effects of Inequity in Education?

Inequity in our educational system puts students at an unfair disadvantage for opportunities throughout the rest of their lives, at no fault of their own.

Insufficient Access to Resources

Right now, there are over 50,000 projects from teachers at Equity Focus schools, requesting not only basic supplies, but the educational experiences they dream of giving their students that their school cannot provide. The tablets and robotics kits and class sets of new books that come standard in well-funded schools are DonorsChoose-dependent dreams for teachers in Equity Focus Schools. 

Opportunity Gap

Race and economic opportunity are intrinsically linked. Insufficient funding for schools serving mostly students of color (and the resulting lack of exposure and experience from a young age) plays a major role in limiting opportunities and affecting outcomes. For example, studies show that in the U.S., Black and Native American children are less likely to rise above their family's economic status than white children.

The importance of students seeing themselves in their teachers

Girls who attend high schools with a higher number of female STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) teachers are 19% more likely to graduate from college with a science or math major. Yet women are three times less likely to teach math, and two-and-a-half times less likely to teach science. Female students need female STEM teachers!The dropout rate among black students decreases by 33% if they have just one

Black teacher between third and fifth grade. Black students need Black teachers! All students need teachers in whom they can see their own futures, successes, and identities. In fact, DonorsChoose has seen a 117% increase in classroom projects requesting resources for students to "see themselves."

How can you support racial equity in schools?

When the Time Comes — Vote!

Pay close attention to the legislative measures on your local, state, and federal ballots. You have a voice in these matters – use it to speak up for students and teachers!

Support an Equity Focus School on DonorsChoose

Make a donation to a classroom where it can make the biggest difference. Pick one (or two or ten) requests from Equity Focus Schools and help fund the supplies, experiences, and dream-big classroom enhancements that will begin to even out the playing field for all students.

Learn as much as you can

Organizations like Racial Equity Tools provide curated tools, tips, and ideas for people who want to increase their understanding and to help those working for racial justice at every level. If you’re a teacher or education leader looking to bring more diversity, empathy, and empathy to your school community, Learning for Justice has some great professional development resources.

Learn more about how our Equity Focus empowers our community to make a difference by going to donorschoose.org/equity-focus.

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