3 out of 4 districts have little plan for providing off-campus internet. But there are solutions, and some districts are leading the charge
The growing ubiquity of internet access and pervasive use of online information has changed the learning landscape forever. Students continue to benefit from enhanced connectivity throughout the formal school day thanks to a $1.5 billion increase in E-rate funding over the last 18 months. However, demand and expectations for learning outside of the school day are on the rise — and there are still many students struggling to complete homework online.
It is estimated that 5 million households with school-age children do not have high-speed internet service at home. Low-income households, especially Black and Hispanic households, make up a disproportionate share of that 5 million. The under-connection of low-income families is a real issue. Clearly, there is a great deal of work that needs to be done to narrow the inequitable homework gap.
This issue constitutes a new civil right; the right to digital equity; the right to connect to needed resources — anywhere, anytime. This is a civil right that cannot be achieved by school leaders alone. A holistic approach will ensure that school-aged children aren’t reduced to little or no access. It calls for community leadership — connected and collaborative leadership.
Together, we’re better
In 2014, nearly 75 percent of school systems surveyed did not have any off-campus strategies for providing connectivity to students at home and after school. Today, we see innovative leaders and students from schools working in collaboration with community leaders and organizations to narrow the access gap. Collectively, they have a greater capacity to gather and leverage resources to provide creative and effective solutions to the gap.
Paul Dakin, Superintendent of Revere Public Schools, teamed up with Mayor Daniel Rizzo to accomplish together what individual agencies might not have been able to achieve alone. Strategies identified to address digital equity include: allowing computer labs access before and after school, working with the public library to provide community access and literacy programs, and partnering with community businesses to get their businesses online. Revere was recognized as one of three winning cities for their student-led effort in the Getting Your Business Online Competition.
In Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District in North Carolina, students are playing a major role in igniting a community-wide effort to provide student access to both computers and broadband outside of the school day. A 12-year-old student initiated this community engagement vision. She quickly and convincingly partnered with parents, the mayor, corporations as well as leaders. E2D, Eliminate the Digital Divide, a non-profit organization has been formed, and together, their collective impact is making strong headway.
These examples offer great vision and ideas that can be adapted for other communities along with a notable and growing list of others: Coachella Valley, CA, Chattanooga, TN, Provo, UT, and Beaufort, SC.
Next page: How to take action on the homework gap
CoSN released the Digital Equity Toolkit in early 2016 to help school leaders and their students get community-based collaborations underway. The kit offers case studies, survey tools and strategies for establishing partnerships to create collaborative and creative solutions for out-of-school access for students.
Interested in getting your school district and community connected? The Digital Equity Toolkit can help you get underway with four key steps: Conducting a survey, engaging your community, ensuring sustainability through community assets, and considering outside-of-the-box solutions.
E-rate focuses only on school and public library connectivity, yet the public-private initiatives of the ConnectHOME, ConnectALL programs and modernization of the Lifeline program are all designed support building an affordable means of home Internet access for all. Community-wide efforts are “on the grow” and gaining momentum quickly throughout the country. The Gigabit City movement and the National Digital Inclusion Alliance met in Kansas City last month to share successes and to strategically plan for increased collective impact in the year ahead.
This summer, CoSN, the organization Student Voice, and other partners will launch the National Student Leadership Challenge encouraging school leaders and their students to take an active role in increasing Digital Equity within their communities during the 2016–2017 school year. Students make for energetic and knowledgeable partners, and they will be working hard to increase out-of-school access, growing this Future Ready Dimension, and narrowing the Homework Gap within their communities!
1 John B. Horrigan, The numbers behind the broadband ‘homework gap’ (April 2015) http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/04/20/the-numbers-behind-the-broadband-homework-gap/