When teachers and principals are asked to describe what equity in education means to them, their comments center on themes around the access to resources and opportunities that each individual student needs to be successful.
No matter the lens through which educators view equity, principals and teachers across the country, whether by region, grade-level or metro status (i.e., city, suburban, town or rural), believe that equity in education should be a national priority.
The vast majority of educators (87%) say that many of their students face barriers to learning that come from outside the school environment. Across region, grade-level and metro status, a majority of educators agree with this statement.
Educators in higher-poverty schools are more likely to say they have students who are experiencing outside barriers to learning, yet this still is prevalent among two-thirds of educators in low-poverty schools.
Overall, less than half of teachers (39%) and principals (48%) agree that most of their students start the school year academically prepared for grade-level work. This varies dramatically by school poverty levels, with educators in high-poverty schools being far less likely to agree.
Principals—who in their roles have insight into their entire school’s population—report having students who are facing many situations that can impede learning. Nine in 10 or more say they have students who are experiencing family or personal crisis, are in need of mental health services or are living in poverty.
A large majority also reported students coming to school hungry, in need of healthcare, who are homeless or in temporary housing, as well as those in need of English language support.
Across the seven student populations asked about, the majority of principals, regardless of school poverty level, report having students who face these personal barriers to learning.
The percentage of principals who have students experiencing family or personal crisis and students in need of mental health services does not vary significantly by school poverty level. However, principals in higher-poverty schools are more likely to have the other student populations asked about in the survey.
Many principals, regardless of grade level, region, metro designation or poverty level, report seeing an increase in the population of students experiencing each of these barriers in the past three years.
In fact, 65% of principals and 58% of teachers who have been in their schools for three years or more say that at least one of these groups has grown.
Significant percentages of educators say many of the resources and circumstances needed for success are NOT adequately available for their students. The most problematic areas are largely outside of the school environment, where educators have limited influence.
Across each of these three areas, educators in high-poverty schools are more likely to say several critical resources and circumstances needed for student success are NOT adequately available for their students.
As noted, across school poverty levels there is a large disparity regarding access to books at home. Echoing the need to close this gap, educators across school poverty levels stress the importance of students having year-round access to books and believe that schools play a role in expanding this access. Educators in high-poverty schools (64%) are more likely than those in low-poverty schools (52%) to strongly agree year-round access to books is important.
Educators in high-poverty schools are far more likely to say that retaining high-quality teachers is a challenge. Relatedly, high-poverty schools have teachers with fewer years of teaching experience than do low-poverty schools. High-poverty schools report that nearly half of their teachers (48%) have fewer than ten years of experience, compared with 31% of teachers in low-poverty schools.