Equity, by Definition, Is Nuanced

Just a few years ago it was agreeable that equity meant everyone gets what they need as opposed to equality, where everyone gets the exact same thing. Yet today, equity is the buzz word sprinkled in our rhetoric to make anything more palatable, just as we might sprinkle cinnamon in black coffee and then claim it’s been sweetened. The problem is, adding cinnamon to coffee doesn’t actually sweeten it– it’s still bitter. And adding the word equity to something doesn’t make it equitable if it doesn’t actually do the nuanced work of addressing individual need. 

AB 1705 follows a pattern that we’re familiar with in education. Educators, who have never stopped saying we need smaller class sizes in addition to a multitude of requests to better support students, are finally relieved when legislators pay attention. Except they’re only half paying attention and instead of supporting the solutions educators have been requesting for over three decades, they have their own ideas about who’s to blame and what the solution is. This leads to the next phase: Sweeping reform without substance that calls on the buzz words of its era– equality, meritocracy, and promises that no child will be left behind, or every student will succeed. Not only do these not achieve the desired outcomes, they actually cause harm in the long run and educators are left holding the metaphorical bill and are scapegoated for the failure of the reform.

Math and English teachers might sense the scapegoating on the horizon with AB 1705 because this reform will do the same thing that its predecessors have, set lofty targets without a nuanced understanding of how we got here or the support system needed to achieve those targets. 

The truth is that money and mandates won’t close a century old opportunity gap in education for Black and Latinx students in English and Math. AB 1705 is trying to ride the coattails of equity, but it is anything but equitable. Rather, AB 1705 aligns with traditional and historic power dynamics and decisions of predominantly white educators, leaders, and legislators- at times well intentioned- dictating to Black and Latinx students and their families in what ways they are deficient and in what means their deficiencies will be addressed. 

Slapping on the language of equity is not only disingenuous and misleading, it is an insult to our intelligence. Because if we agree that equity means everyone gets what they need and not everyone gets the same thing, then it is plain to see this is another iteration of impatient equality rather than equity. It took us hundreds of years to get here, what “caucacity” says it will take us a couple years and a few million to undo the harm that’s been done in education of Black and Latinx students over centuries? It’s 2022, can we stop tokenizing Black and Latinx students to continue the harmful cycle of mandating one extreme over another?

So where does that leave us? This isn’t an all-or-nothing game. And if information is power, then FACCC’s recommended amendments address equity in its truest form by empowering students with information and agency: 

Student Access
Placement and enrollment of students in a transfer-level English or Mathematics course should not prevent students from enrolling in a pre-transfer level English or Mathematics course when a student determines a course fulfills their academic needs based on the desire to: 

  • Complete a certificate or CTE program.
  • Make up for learning loss from the COVID pandemic or break in education.
  • Build skills or reskill.
  • Fulfill a lifelong learning priority in written communication and quantitative reasoning courses.

AB 1705 shall not prohibit nor deny a student the opportunity to enroll in any pre-transfer level English or Mathematics courses based on students’ right to determine for themselves their academic needs. 

  • Remove excess program requirements for CTE Certificates.
  • Exempt CTE programs from this legislation. Legislative action should not add program requirements to short-term CTE certificates that lead to high-paying jobs. Amendments improve this section of the bill, but are still prescriptive.

Support/Resources for faculty to do this work: 

  • Mandate smaller class sizes - the ratio of instructor to student should not exceed 1:10
  • Professional development (compensated particularly for PT faculty)
  • Embedded faculty tutors in the classrooms
  • Update the classroom environment to accommodate small groups
  • Require new data in AB 1805 templates to include “enrollment before census” 
  • Definition of “pre-transfer” should not include non-credit

Finally, in reflecting on John Fox's OpEd in Eastbay Times, I couldn't help but think of my own story. I took AP classes in high school, but was placed into remedial English at Solano Community College. I didn't need remediation, and I'm going to argue that at the heart of this issue- neither did John- what we both needed was access to information. With access to the right information, we would have both been able to choose the education we wanted and needed.

AB 1705 in its current form makes claims of equity but robs students of this most critical equitable value: access. Problematizing, discussing, and deciding "what's best" for Black and Latinx students at community colleges is the furthest thing from equity. In the case of AB 1705, and any legislation, the singularly most equitable thing we can do is empower our students with access to information and agency to make their own decisions, and not treat them as a monolith and funnel them through to fulfill to well-intentioned agendas of throughput. 

The fact that this is not front and center as part of this legislation begs the question, “ What is stopping us from actually empowering students with information and recommendations rather than forcing them to do what we feel is best?” Is it fear? Fear of what? Those are questions we must deeply examine, no matter how uncomfortable, because forcing students to do what we think is best is infantilizing, and dismisses their capabilities as decision makers. But even more horrifying, it erases a piece of their own agency and by extension their humanity, which is a practice that echoes back to slavery itself.

My experience with remedial education is just one story, but I'm willing to wager that if you ask any student, no– any person to choose between "you have no decision, but trust me this is good for you" and "you have agency, here's information on how these pathways can harm or help your specific situation," that they would choose to be empowered with information and not continue to be subjected to the paternalistic tendencies of mandates like these. I urge our well intentioned leaders and representatives to think about the nuance of equity and what agency for Black and Latinx students looks like today, in 2022. As a student turned educator, my experiences affirmed that knowledge is power. As educators, leaders, and representatives, our power lies in what we do with our knowledge, and that is to ensure equity through the informed agency of each student.


 FACCC blog posts are written independently by FACCC members and encompass their experiences and recommendations. FACCC neither condemns nor endorses the recommendations herein.
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