Defining and Understanding Equity
January 2, 2020
The start of a new decade is the perfect time to reflect upon our regular work with families through a renewed equity lens. Equity is a concept that is integral to the work of early learning professionals and programs. Not only does equity impact the work that early learning professionals do daily with young children in the classroom, but it also plays a key role in the relationships that we build with families. Decades of research highlight the important role that family engagement plays in supporting the immediate and long-term outcomes of young children. These outcomes, however, do not come without an intentional focus on equity within early learning programs. To support the development and implementation of equitable systems for engaging with families, the following monthly tip will explore:
- The concepts of equality, equity, and justice
- The connection between equity and family engagement
- The role that early learning programs play in supporting equity in the first years of life
By developing a deeper understanding of equity and its practices, early learning programs and professionals can work towards the development of policies, procedures, and systems that support all families in intentional ways, that meet their needs and that respect their diverse experiences and perspectives.
Equality is defined as the state of being equal, particularly as it relates to having the same rights, status, and opportunities. As depicted in the image above, this concept assumes that everyone, regardless of age, race, gender, ability, or sexual orientation, has the same needs and, therefore, benefits from the same supports. Systems that are built on the concept of equality hold the core belief that everyone can succeed by receiving equal treatment.
When it comes to working with families equality is the assumption that all families should be treated a certain way, should receive and understand information a certain way, and should be involved in their child’s education in a certain way. Equality is at the core of opportunities for family involvement wherein every family is offered the same opportunities to get involved in their child’s education regardless of specific needs, abilities, or capacities. Here are some examples of family involvement practices centered on equality:
- Programs only offer family members the opportunity to volunteer by working in the classroom.
- Parent/Teacher conferences are only held in-person, during the work day.
- Family events are determined and planned only by program administrators and are the same each year.
As you reflect on your own professional and programmatic practices, consider the following question: How is the concept of equality reflected in the way that I build relationships with families?
Equity is a state of being free from bias or favoritism. While both equity and equality are often used interchangeably, they are, in fact, distinctly different. While equality assumes that providing the same types of resources will lead everyone to “succeed”, equity acknowledges that people across demographic groups embody diverse needs that cannot be met through a uniform solution. As depicted in the image above, equity focuses on providing the support that each person needs to be successful. Some might not need any support to achieve success, while others might need additional support and resources to be successful. Systems that are built on the concept of equity value diversity and seek to include everyone in achieving the same level of positive outcomes.
When it comes to working with families, an equitable system for family engagement is one that is created in partnership with families and recognizes that everyone has unique beliefs, values, and experiences that impact the way in which they parent at home and support their child in school. Examples of equitable practices that support family engagement are exemplified when:
- Translation is provided for all activities involving families who do not speak English. This includes program policies, handouts, event flyers, resource information, and meeting/workshop information. When the majority of families in attendance do not speak English, the event is held in the language spoken by those in attendance and translation is offered in English.
- Families are regularly provided opportunities to share about themselves in a variety of different ways (in person, through anonymous comment cards, or through online surveys). Families are asked about their needs, interests, skills, beliefs, and values. Activities and events vary based on the information gathered and are planned based on the information directly provided by the families.
- Program administration and staff work collaboratively with families to create a shared vision for equitable family engagement that guides the way in which families and staff work in partnership.
As you reflect on your own professional and programmatic practices, consider the following question: Are the family engagement practices at my program equal or are they equitable?
Equitable practices in family engagement is a social justice issue
Developing equitable family engagement practices in your early learning program is a matter of social justice. As is depicted below, justice is achieved when everyone can participate without supports or accommodations because the barrier to participation has been eliminated.
There are many barriers that currently exist that keep families from being able to fully engage in their child’s education and build meaningful relationships with the staff that care for their child. Barriers such as financial security, immigration status, language, stable employment, and physical disabilities are very real concerns that family wrestle with daily. When families are unable to meet their basic needs, whether they be physical, mental, or emotional, it is almost impossible for them to have the capacity to be full partners in their child’s education.
While those barriers might never go away, there are ways that you can move towards equity and social justice as you establish supportive relationships with families. Consider the following:
- Be curious by making time to learn about each of the families of the children you serve.
- Maintain an openness to the multiple and varied forms of family engagement.
- Ask families what they need from your program and use that information to inform policies and processes.
Remember that your early learning program is a child’s first formal community, beyond that which their immediate and extended family offers. Therefore, it is important that your environment frame every learning experience that children encounter within the context of equity, wherein children learn that they are valued by others, how to treat others with fairness and respect, and how to embrace, rather than fear or ignore, differences.