Educator Paulette Chaffee comments on the importance of understanding the difference between equity and equality in the classroom


As Paulette Chaffee explains, schools must understand the differences between equity and equality to provide an inclusive learning environment.

There is much discussion about creating educational environments that ensure fairness and equality for all students. These two words are often used interchangeably, but as educator Paulette Chaffee explains, there are unique differences between them that must be understood if schools are to offer both to students.

Equality in the classroom is defined as providing the same opportunities, resources and rights to all students. Ensuring equality in classrooms is essential, of course, but this often does not address the particular problems or needs that students face.

For example, if a school provided each student in the class with a tablet to take home, it would create an equal environment. However, this would not solve the problem of students who cannot access the internet at home.

In this scenario, the school would offer equality in the classroom but not equity.

This is because fairness is much more personalized. When schools provide an equitable environment, they provide students with resources suited to individual circumstances.

The Société Nationale des Lycéens explains the difference between equality and equity in a simple way. As the organization writes:

“Equity refers to an idea of ​​fairness, while equality refers to an idea of ​​similarity.”

This is why Paulette Chaffee says classrooms need to focus more on equity rather than equality. While “similarity” is important, to some extent it is not as critical as “fairness”.

Prioritizing equity over equality is not, however, straightforward. Ensuring equality is fairly straightforward, as in the tablets example above. Beyond the necessary financial resources, it is not difficult for a class to provide a tablet for each student.

In contrast, it is much more difficult to ensure that every student can use the tablet at home with full Internet access.

The biggest challenge that schools often face is that students come from diverse backgrounds and demographics. This makes it difficult to provide equitable resources to all students.

Yet schools must first and foremost address equity to provide an inclusive environment for all students. This requires giving individual attention to each student and adapting resources to their unique situation.

But schools often cannot do it on their own.

The classroom is only part of the larger community. By working with the community as a whole, schools can solve all equity issues inside and outside the classroom, so that all students can have an equitable and inclusive environment in which to learn.

About Paulette Chaffee
Paulette Chaffee is a teacher, speech language pathologist and lawyer deeply involved in the Fullerton community. As an educator and member of various non-profit boards of directors, her goal has always been to provide children with the highest quality education. Ms. Chaffee holds a BA and MA from the University of Redlands, a California Lifetime Teaching Diploma, and is called to the California Bar.

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