Fair is not the same as Equal in the Classroom

Often times, educational professionals struggle with the concept of fair and equal within the instructional setting. Certainly, fair and equal are not the same, and what may seem fair for one student may be unfair for another one (Butler, 2005). Unfortunately, there are teachers, parents, and students who mistakenly think that treating everyone the same is fair. However, the belief is wrong because students do not learn the same way.  With the increase in diversity and need for differentiated instruction, issues concerning fairness and equal are now more evident than ever. According to Curwin (2013), the fairest way to treat students is meeting their specific needs and focusing on issues affecting individual students. Notably, the issue of fairness is complex and the definition is sometimes incongruent. 

Ideally, Deutsch provided the concepts of equality, equity, and need to help in the definition of fairness. According to Butler (2005), Deutsch defined equality as when everyone is treated the same and this is applicable in situations when everyone gets a vote. Equity is when rewards, consequences, and punishment are proportionate to the product. The other definition based on need is when everyone’s needs including accommodations and support are provided. Thus, fair is not the same as equal and as simplified by Belvel (2010), equal is when everyone gets the same thing. On the other hand, fair when everyone receives what they need. 

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An Example of Fairness

Within the instructional setting, students are often expected to work on intrapersonal tasks, where each student works alone. To create fairness, the teacher should introduce accommodation to meet the needs of the special needs students and gifted learners. In this case, the teacher should introduce differentiated instructions to accommodate the needs of the special students and gifted, but give them the same assessment. 


Belvel, P. S. (2010). Rethinking classroom management: Strategies for prevention, intervention, and problem-solving. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Corwin Press.

Butler, C.J. (2005). Equal and Fair Are Not the Same: Classroom Issues of Fairness. T-TAC Network News. Retrieved from: http://www.ttac.odu.edu/newsletter/PDF/OLD/Nov_Dec_2004_Jan_2005/Page2.pdfCurwin, R. L. (2013). Affirmative Classroom Management. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

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