In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Equity, Ethnicity, Diversity, and Excellence in Education

  • Introduction
  • International Comparisons and Meta-Analyses
  • Race, Ethnicity, and Diversity
  • School as a Social System and Excellence
  • Leadership
  • Opportunities to Learn and Teacher Expectations

Education Equity, Ethnicity, Diversity, and Excellence in Education
Cynthia Kiro
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 July 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0220


Equity has attracted considerable attention in the education sector, yet it remains elusive in educational achievement outcomes for many students in developed countries. Equity in education was defined by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in their 2008 policy brief as a measure of achievement, fairness, and opportunity in education where fairness and inclusiveness comprise the two key aspects. Equality is about access to and participation in education, with equal amounts of resource, time, and focus. Equity may require unequal amounts of time, focus, and resource to redress an imbalance and to achieve similar outcomes. Educational equity is about raising the achievement of all students while narrowing gaps between the highest and lowest performing students, eliminating the racial predictability and disproportionality of which student groups occupy the highest and lowest achievement categories and addressing access to resources and opportunity. Given the breadth of topic including gender, ethnicity, social class, disability, religion, and geography, this bibliography excludes vast areas of inclusive education literature, gender analysis, disability and special needs, indigenous, and most of the multicultural literature. The focus is instead on two strands, namely, ethnicity and diversity, creating positive classroom climates with rich curriculum and high-expectancy teachers. Most of the literature confirms the central role of socioeconomic status and school choice as significant and also teacher classroom practices as critical opportunities for redress. The OECD compares developed countries and reports regularly on their findings; UN agencies such as UNICEF’s Innocenti Centre produce regularly on interrelated institutions such as schools and education, across many countries; and the American Educational Research Association (AERA) produces highly regarded educational research including equity, equality, and academic excellence studies. Excellence in education has been focused upon student or learner academic achievement, usually determined through state or nationally sanctioned testing. These tests are likely normatively rather than competency based, reflecting dominant ethnic and social class biases. Excellence is understood within the literature as manifesting high degrees of specialism and aptitude for academic tasks. Terms such as “achievement” are intimately linked to these notions of excellence. However, it is possible, as some literature confirms, to associate excellence with diversity and the achievement of equity. Thus, schools and teachers go beyond access to education to actively requiring educators to respond to the diverse needs of learners in ways that increase enquiry-based learning, and reinforcing the child’s sense of value as learners and belonging as citizens through culturally appropriate teaching. Fairness and inclusiveness are managed within a more contained language of choice and self-improvement. Every school is a microcosm of their community, but how this community is refracted is dependent upon specific teaching and classroom practices, school behaviors and processes, and the public policy milieu of each country. Learning is not only an illuminating and creative process but also requires discipline and perseverance. Compressed curriculum, spoon-feeding teaching, low expectations, or constant rapid reform to deal with inherent problems such as inequity of outcomes within the education system contribute to a further erosion of teachers’ professional judgements and schools as part of communities of learning.

International Comparisons and Meta-Analyses

International comparisons are difficult in education systems given the range of unique features for each country system. Inevitably, subtleties are lost, and complexities ignored or minimized to understand how they function. Despite these difficulties, international and national comparisons are essential for understanding how different countries grapple with the challenge of equity and excellence. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development comparisons are useful particularly for understanding emerging trends that impact developed countries, such as are under consideration in this bibliography. However, given its focus on developed countries, it has limited contribution to make to developing economies and emerging powerful economies and educational systems in the Asia-Pacific region. There are also researchers who regularly publish cross-country comparisons on educational systems to be found in educational research, for example, Darling-Hammond 2017 and Lee 2016 when considering the United States and Hattie 2015 and Hattie 2012, which consider New Zealand. In Europe, Van den Branden, et al. 2010 examines the link between equity and excellence through a more philosophical lens, arguing for sustained efforts to lift equity by students, parents, teachers, principals, teacher trainers, the local community, and policymakers who create educational processes, while Banks 2009 examines a wide range of countries including those in Asia, Oceania, the Americas, and Europe to understand specific experiences of indigenous and migrant communities and the link between identity, culture, and education. The New Zealand Ministry of Education publishes a Best Evidence Synthesis (BES) series, which cover meta-analyses of many socio-cultural issues in the New Zealand education system, including works such as Alton-Lee 2003 and Biddulph, et al. 2003. Bhopal and Maylor 2013 considers issues around difference, diversity and inclusion across a range of countries in Europe, the South Pacific, and Southern Asia.

  • Alton-Lee, Adrienne. 2003. Quality teaching for diverse students: Best evidence synthesis. Wellington, New Zealand: Ministry of Education.

    Alton-Lee’s synthesis confirmed that at least 59 percent of student learning achievement is related to teacher quality. Alton-Lee was referring to teaching as part of a heterogeneous education system and highlighted that New Zealand has one of the highest within-school variations in the developed world due to socioeconomic divergence.

  • Banks, James A., ed. 2009. The Routledge international companion to multicultural education. London: Routledge.

    This handbook encompasses an analysis about a relationship between culture, identity, language, immigration, and how a critical view of education can inform more responsive education including for indigenous peoples in Peru, American Indian, and Māori as well as migrant populations in Europe, Asia, and Latin America.

  • Bhopal, Kalwant, and Ulvanney Maylor, eds. 2013. Educational inequalities: Difference and diversity in schools and higher education. London: Routledge.

    Covering a wide range of countries from the United Kingdom and Australia to Guatemala and Southeast Asia, this edited book adopts a critical lens to understand difference, diversity, and inclusion in education.

  • Biddulph, Fred, Jeanne Biddulph, and Chris Biddulph. 2003. The complexity of community and family influences on children’s achievement in New Zealand: Best evidence synthesis. Wellington, New Zealand: Ministry of Education.

    This best-evidence synthesis explains how family and community influences, including socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and culture shape educational outcomes. Choice of school, along with community factors that reinforce social capital such as churches or cultural connections, are considered.

  • Darling-Hammond, Linda. 2017. Diversity, equity, and education in a globalized world. Kappa Delta Pi Record 49.3: 113–115.

    DOI: 10.1080/00228958.2013.819186

    Focused on improving the United States education system based upon comparisons with Finland, South Korea, Singapore, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, Darling-Hammond calls for an investment in well-prepared teachers, a common curriculum using an inquiry approach and integrated technology, well-resourced classrooms, collaborative learning, and quality preschool that prepares children for learning.

  • Hattie, John. 2012. Visible learning for teachers: Maximising impact on learning. London: Routledge.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203181522

    Teachers can learn to be more effective when they enable a feedback loop that Hattie describes as visible learning. He uses over nine hundred studies to argue that teachers are the major actors in educational processes. What they do and how they do it makes the difference for student learning. Hattie provides strategies, checklists, evidence, and encouragement to teachers to empower them to provide a more effective classroom climate for learning.

  • Hattie, John. 2015. What works best in education: The politics of collaborative expertise. London: Pearson.

    This meta-analysis looks at what contributes to good educational outcomes for students and concludes that teacher quality is the most important factor, with much of the other material being a distraction to this finding.

  • Lee, Jaekyung. 2016. The anatomy of achievement gaps: Why and how American education is losing (but can still win) the war on underachievement. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190217648.001.0001

    This book addresses the tension between excellence and equity policy goals by tracking achievement gaps and inequalities from preschool through to college education across American and Asian contexts.

  • Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. 2007. No more failures: Ten steps to equity in education. Paris: OECD.

    Ten steps to make education more inclusive and equitable are explored: reducing tracking and streaming for academic selection, school choice, secondary education structures and second chance programs, grade repetition, links between the school and home, early childhood education, resource allocation, and targets for equity and the special needs of migrants and minorities.

  • Van den Branden, Kris, Piet Van Avermaet, and Mieke Van Houtte, eds. 2010. Equity and excellence in education. New York: Routledge.

    Excellence often requires a specialized curriculum and particular styles of learning that disadvantage some students. Education may therefore replicate disadvantage or attribute shortcomings to individual children rather than background factors. For educational systems to raise their levels of equity and excellence, students, parents, teachers, principals, teacher trainers, the local community, and policymakers need to sustain effort to cater for the needs of all children.

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