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Educators As “Equity Warriors”



Despite the multifaceted causes of educational disparities, schools’ responsibility for reducing
inequality undergirds American ideals. Educators operate as street-level bureaucrats to
accomplish this equalizing work. Surprisingly, we know little about how teachers think about
inequality or enact strategies to combat it, even though their execution of this mandate is
almost certainly mediated through pre-existing understandings. This paper provides a
framework (applicable to other sectors) to examine educators’ beliefs about inequality and
their role in advancing equity. To progress, teachers need to believe that doing so is valuable,
feel empowered to overcome disadvantage, and be willing to make tradeoffs in pursuit of
equity goals. Our framework highlights the salience of individual differences between lowand highachievers as a form of inequality that may divert teachers’ focus from the structural
inequality that is central to policy and sociological concern. We test this framework
empirically using novel survey data from over 1,500 teachers collected in a diverse urban
school district. Although most surveyed teachers believe addressing inequality is important
and feel empowered to do so, many seemingly equity-minded educators do not endorse
strategies aligned with closing racial and socioeconomic inequality—indicating an important
barrier to reducing inequality

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