Digital equity bill targets ‘homework gap’

By Laura Devaney, Director of News, @eSN_Laura
September 24th, 2015

Proposed legislation would ensure students have access to digital learning resources, internet outside of school

digital-internetNew legislation introduced in Congress would support “innovative strategies and methods to increase out-of-school access to digital learning resources” in an effort to boost both student and educator engagement.

The Digital Learning Equity Act of 2015, introduced by Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and co-sponsored by Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.), would call for a national study on what is known as the “Homework Gap” and would support pilot programs to extend digital learning opportunities for students when they are not in the classroom.

The proposed legislation received support across the ed-tech industry after it was announced.

“The Homework Gap is the cruelest part of the new digital divide. Today, too many students are unable to complete their school assignments because they do not have internet access at home. This means they fall behind in the classroom—and we all lose out when we have a generation ill-prepared to enter the digital economy,” said FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who joined Welch to discuss the legislation as it was introduced.

“The bill championed by Representatives David McKinley and Peter Welch is a needed investment toward reducing digital learning inequities and enabling continuous learning for all students today,” said Keith Krueger, CEO of CoSN.

“Through E-Rate, the Federal Communications Commission reinvested in digitally connecting all U.S. classrooms over the next five years. This important commitment solves one-half of the ‘always-on’ personalized learning challenge,” he said.

“The focus must now shift outside the classroom, where, according to Pew Research, 5 million U.S. households with school-age children do not have high-speed internet. Students in these poor or remote communities cannot do their homework when they leave school, widening the achievement gap. Limiting adequate Internet service to the classroom is similar to shutting off a car engine before it hits the highway.”

ISTE CEO Brian Lewis pointed to a Pew Research Center study revealing that though 70 percent of teachers assign homework requiring students to use high-speed internet outside of school, one-third of home do not have those high-speed services.

“The Digital Learning Equity Act of 2015 (H.R. 3582) addresses the growing ‘homework gap’ by putting measures in place that would ensure high-speed home internet access in all communities – specifically in rural areas,” he said. “…We believe addressing this homework gap will ensure learning is not interrupted for students who should have the opportunity to thrive, achieve and contribute.”

In a joint letter to legislators, the National School Boards Association, along with a number of other education and ed-tech groups, said the bill will “help provide students and their families with equitable access to the Internet at home to support family engagement in their child’s education and will allow students to accomplish essential tasks such as completing their homework, applying for colleges and seeking post-graduation employment.”