‘Equity’ isn’t the answer

By IAN ROWE
Posted 6/14/22

As a charter school leader in the South Bronx for the past decade, I’ve seen what happens when resources are forcibly removed from the “privileged” and given to the …

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‘Equity’ isn’t the answer

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As a charter school leader in the South Bronx for the past decade, I’ve seen what happens when resources are forcibly removed from the “privileged” and given to the “unprivileged” in the pursuit of “equity” over “equality.”

The problem with equity — defined as equal outcomes for students from varied identity groups — is that it inevitably denies the role of individuality. Rather than support students’ assets and abilities, “equity” limits them by race and opportunity.

Proponents of equity over equality view this status quo as a struggle between the inherently advantaged and the inherently disadvantaged, the “marginalized” and the “non-marginalized,” the victimizers and their victims.

What’s missing here, however, are the students themselves. Rather than focus on individual needs and outcomes, equity advocates merely count and sort — with little regard for uniqueness, humanity or agency. And nowhere is this more apparent than in the pursuit of racial equity.

A bill signed last year by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, for instance, suspended reading, writing and math proficiency requirements for graduating high-school students. By lowering standards, the governor’s office said the law would help Oregon’s “Black, Latino, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian, Pacific Islander, Tribal, and students of color.”

The Oregon effort is but one example of wrong-headed “antiracist thinking” in education.

As one mother of a Black 11-year-old Evanston, Illinois, student said: “My son has wanted to be a lawyer since he was 11. Then one day he came home and told me, ‘But Mommy, there are these systems put in place that prevent Black people from accomplishing anything.’”

David Quinn at the University of Southern California found that content emphasizing the achievement gap between black and white students caused many adults to underestimate the capabilities of black students. Rather than boost minority outcomes, the focus on “gaps” — instead of potential or achievement — actually reinforced the notion that individual effort cannot compete against systemic barriers.

Educators often have both high expectations and deep empathy for students whose home life or economic status infiltrate the classroom. Which is why in the schools I run — many in low-income communities — we refuse to believe these kids lack opportunity, nor do we want them to believe this themselves.

The whole reason to run schools, especially in lower-income communities, is to help students triumph from victimhood to victory. Across America, parents need to fully understand what’s at stake when antiracist dogma enters the classroom.

The most effective way to confront bigotry is not with more bigotry. Yet this is exactly what happens every time we reduce students and faculty to their race or gender. We focus on the insurmountability of systemic racism rather than empower young people to believe that they possess the power — and, yes, agency — to surmount it.

Ian Rowe is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (aei.org) in Washington. A longer version of this article appeared in the New York Post.

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