Standards May Achieve Equality, But Not Equity

Michelle Morrissey makes a case for Common Core in By ‘Common,’ We Mean Equity:

When the Common Core State Standards emerged, it was both a shock and a revelation — for the first time, the dominant model said that my students, who live in low-income neighborhoods and are predominately Hispanic or African American, would have some guarantee of the same kinds of educational experiences that students at high-performing schools across the country have. All students would be asked to do the hard stuff—and reap the benefits of those high expectations.

Setting aside the inaccurate hyperbole (“for the first time”) and that every single round of standards embraced in the U.S. since the 1890s has come with the exact same set of claims (and then has always failed, thus a new round of “better” standards), the fundamental problem with chasing better standards is that standards may achieve equality, but not equity.

Standards and equality are both about sameness; equity is about fairness and justice:

Equity vs. Equality

If seeking that all students learn and do the same things is actually a valuable goal (and I doubt that is), we must first insure equity. In other words, we are implementing the wrong policies and failing to first address the lingering racial and social inequities facing children.

Standards, as I have discussed before, are not correlated in any way with increasing student achievement or with equity, as Mathis reports:

There is, for example, no evidence that states within the U.S. score higher or lower on the NAEP based on the rigor of their state standards. Similarly, international test data show no pronounced tests core advantage on the basis of the presence or absence of national standards. Further, the wave of high-stakes testing associated with No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has resulted in the “dumbing down” and narrowing of the curriculum. …

As the absence or presence of rigorous or national standards says nothing about equity, educational quality, or the provision of adequate educational services, there is no reason to expect CCSS or any other standards initiative to be an effective educational reform by itself.

In the U.S., we have a blind spot to the inequity of privilege, but often have knee-jerk reactions that misinterpret efforts to achieve equity with “giving things away” to the disadvantaged.

Not unrelated is the political and public rejection of affirmative action, specifically race-based college admission policies.

But as privileged leaders and the public champion ending race-based college admission policies as a win for equality (everyone judged the same), virtually no one raises a peep about wealthy and connected teenagers entering colleges as legacy because we fail to see the inequity of privilege (see Justice Sotomayor’s dissent).

Common Core, or any set of standards, may achieve equality, but never equity, and as long as standards remain linked directly to high-stakes testing—which remains deeply biased by race, class, and gender—all standards movements will in fact perpetuate inequity.

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10 thoughts on “Standards May Achieve Equality, But Not Equity

  1. A brilliant and clear eyed-explanation of this esential issue. Coming right after the Michigan affirmative action decision in the Supreme Court, it is a distinction that must be reinforced. As I have been known to tell my students when they cry foul, “fair is not equal and equal is not fair.” Thank you for this, Paul.

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