Visualizing School Equity

We often teach our students that school segregation ended with Brown v. Board of Education, but the reality is not quite that simple. While schools today are not segregated by law, segregated housing patterns and unequal funding systems have concentrated students of color into underfunded, under-equipped institutions that some critics call “apartheid schools.”
Grade Level


At the end of the lesson, students will be able to:

• learn about inequities in the system and begin to question why those inequities exist by examining the funding gap in their own state.

• analyze and present data regarding their state’s or district’s funding gap

Essential Questions

• Why do school funding inequities often exist?

• How can funding equity improve education for students in underfunded districts?

Enduring Understandings

• A large portion of public school funding comes from local property taxes. The funding gap exists when higher tax revenues mean much more school funding is available to wealthy communities than to poor communities.

• More funding for schools means better resources, support, and learning conditions, and more opportunities for enrichment.


• Internet access to, or a copy of, the Teaching Tolerance magazine article "Crossing the Gap" for each student

• access to the Internet or copies of The Education Trust's report titled “Funding Gaps 2015.” The report contains a state-by-state analysis of the public school funding gaps that affect students of color and students in poverty across the country. For detailed data by state, students can visit https://edtrust.org/map/

• Markers


boycott [boy-kot] (noun) the practice of refusing to do something as a way to protest

funding gap [fuhnd-ing gap] (noun) the difference in the amount of money being spent on one group versus another

inequity [in-ek-wih-tee] (noun) a lack of fairness

truant [troo-uhnt] (adjective) away from school without permission

Suggested Procedure

1. Distribute copies of "Crossing the Gap" to your students. Give them time to read the story.

2. Break students into groups of three or four. Provide each group with a poster board, markers, and copies of “Funding Gaps 2015.” Ask each group to find one of the following items of information for their state, which is listed in percentages: a) the per-student funding gap between the highest-poverty and lowest-poverty school districts b) the funding gap between districts with many students of color and districts with few students of color.

Then have students find the per-student funding levels (listed in dollar amounts) for the best-funded district, least-funded district, and their own district. (You may be able to find these on the website of your state board of education, or you can create one using the “quickFacts” or “expressTables” function on the National Center for Education Statistics website. Please note that the most recent data is for the 2011-12 school year). Have students create a chart illustrating the funding gap between the best-funded and least-funded districts in the state, along with the per-student funding for their district. Have students brainstorm a list of useful educational items that could be purchased with the funding gap money for the least-funded district and/or their own district.

(Note: In a few states, funding in high-poverty districts actually exceeds funding in low-poverty districts. If you are in one of these states, ask your students to do some research on how your state bucked the trend — and discuss the reasons why a high-poverty district might need more funding.)

3. Ask to students to present their posters to the entire class. 

4. Circle back to the “Crossing the Gap” story by ask students to vote on the following proposition: An explicit right to equal per-student funding should be added to the Illinois Council of Students' Bill of Rights. Once your students have voted “yes” or “no” to the proposition, ask each group to present their decision, and three reasons supporting it, to the class as a whole. 

Alignment to Common Core State Standards/ College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards CCSS R.1, R.7, W.1, SL.4, SL.5


Do Something

Form a partnership with a teacher in another district. You will ask your students to assemble a portfolio documenting the facilities at their school (through lists, narratives or photos); your partner teacher will ask her/his students to do the same. Classes can exchange portfolios. Each class can use the insights from the exchange to draft their own Student Bill of Rights. 

Teaching Tolerance collage of images

Welcome to Learning for Justice—Formerly Teaching Tolerance!

Our work has evolved in the last 30 years, from reducing prejudice to tackling systemic injustice. So we’ve chosen a new name that better reflects that evolution: Learning for Justice.

Learn More