I happened to have had Deborah Stone as a professor at the Heller School
and it seemed that one of her favorite subjects was the meaning of equity.
She used the chocolate cake problem as a way to get us to talk about the
different meanings of equity. How should the cake be distributed equitably
particularly with 30 hungry grad students sitting in close proximity to the
cake and to her.
1) We could all get an equal sized piece. Problem is that some people are
much smaller than other people and proportionately, this was unfair. Plus,
some people did not want any cake in the first place (imagine that) and
therefore the pieces were artificially small.
2) We could each have an equal chance at getting a piece of cake by using a
lottery system. Who ever got the winning number got the whole cake. Problem
was 29 people would be out of luck. People did not like their chances. Plus
who wants an entire cake?
3) We could all get a piece of cake based upon some measure of our
"deservedness." The more deserving the bigger the slice of cake. Well that
could take all day to calculate.
4) We could all be given a fork and told to charge the cake willy nilly and
fight for our share. You might get injured.
5) People could testify to their need for a piece of cake and the most
convincing get a piece.
6) We could slice the cake into 8 perfectly same sized slices and institute
some sort of procedure for auctioning them off.
7) We could have a contest and the people who got the right answers, got a
piece of cake until the cake was gone.
And so on.
My rather silly argument here is that there seems to be varying ideas on
what gender equity in education means. Is it more important that girls and
boys get treated equally in class or should we worry more about equity of
outcome? Does equity of treatment lead to equity in outcome? If you believe
in equity in treatment, then likely the conversation is about how teachers
interact, who gets called on in class, etc. If you believe in equity of
outcome, then likely the conversation is going to be about who graduates,
who scores higher on standardized tests, who goes to college, and who gets
the best jobs at the best pay.
A line of research opens up. What is the relationship between equity of
treatment and equity of outcome. In the disability world, we are more often
than not arguing for equity of outcome. Our issue is related to the cake
solution #1. Standard forms of service are often not enough to get the same
benefit from the service. The counter argument is that people are then
getting more than others. But, of what use is an inaccessible classroom to
a deaf student? They may be getting the same service, a lecture, but they
are getting little if any of the content. Educational policy tends to be
based on merit. The students with the best grades, the most potential, get
better instruction, advanced classes, This is quite clear if you compare
students in special education with students in advanced placement. Many
students with disabilities get little if any academic course work after
junior high. The emphasis is on life skills. Gifted students are worthy of
serious academic training.
My point here is that no matter how you slice the cake, you end up with
equity problems. I suggest that we should focus on how to look at
educational achievement student by student with the emphasis on educational
outcome. What does an educational system look like that ensures that every
student gets what they need to reach their potential and beyond.
Susan Foley, PhD
Institute for Community Inclusion
University of Massachusetts Boston
100 Morrissey Boulevard
Boston, MA 02115
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