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What does equality of educational opportunity (Equity) mean?

“What does equality of educational opportunity mean? What do we imply when we assert that the opportunity of student John Doe to get an education is equal to that of student Jane Smith? Some people argue that since the amount and kind of education a person acquires are functions of his inherent ability to learn, and since this ability varies among persons, educational opportunity ought to be a function of, to be determined by, the ability or capacity to profit from education.

This argument is essentially valid. People do vary in their capacity to benefit from formal education, and most thinkers agree that an educational system should reward its clients unequally in ways corresponding to the unequal distribution of capacities. But this observation is misleading. How do people come by their capacities? In part, and maybe in large measure, individual capabilities are functions of one’s environment, and the principle of equality of educational opportunity is based upon this reality. In short, equality of educational opportunity refers not to inherent capacities, but to the environmental influences that shape and condition the growth and development of the individual. The concept does not denote equality of intellectual and physical capacity of all men in all places. Instead, it rests on assumptions relating to the origins of inequalities. It assumes that social inequalities stand in the way of educational opportunity and, thus, constitute barriers to general equality of opportunity. The key word, then, is opportunity, the opportunity to get an education of whatever amount and kind one’s capacities make possible. It is opportunity that must be equalized.”

(p15-16, Italics in original.)

Tesconi & Hurwitz, 1974



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