School districts dealt with the sudden move to remote learning due to COVID-19 in different ways–some were more prepared and shipped devices out to students in record time, while others struggled to ensure students had basic internet access and were checking in each day.

But no matter how successful a district’s foray into remote learning was, the homework gap remained in the background, keeping many students–too many students–from reaching their learning potential.

Related content: 5 steps to closing the homework gap

New joint research from the Alliance for Excellent Education, the National Indian Education Association, the National Urban League, and UnidosUS shows that while more than 55 million students transitioned to at-home learning, 16.9 million children were “logged out” from instruction because their families did not have home internet access. Known as the homework gap, this critical lack of access exacerbates other opportunity gaps.

The homework gap hits students of color particularly hard–one out of three Black, Latino, and American Indian/Alaska Native households lacks home internet access.

The report asks Congress to pass the Emergency Education Connections Act and provide $6.8 billion through the E-rate program in the next COVID-19 relief package.

“Asking students—many of whom are from low-income or rural homes—to try to learn with a family member’s cell phone or with paper packets is neither acceptable nor sustainable. We need Congress to demonstrate their concern for all students’ learning by providing $6.8 billion in critical funding in the next stimulus legislation for internet and computer access for all students, no matter where they live,” said All4Ed president and CEO Deborah Delisle. “The federal government has an historic opportunity to ensure millions of students get what they need to be successful this fall and beyond. What we offer to our students tells them what it is we value. This is our time to show we care.”

Here are 5 ways the homework gap holds students back from achieving their potential:

1. 8.4 million households with children do not have high-speed home internet service. The research categorizes “high-speed home internet” as a wireline broadband internet subscription–high-speed internet service delivered via cable, fiber, or DSL. Many households do have wireless broadband internet access through smartphones, but smartphones are generally not adequate for school work.

2. 3.6 million households lack a computer–meaning 7.3 million children are at an academic disadvantage. A computer refers to a laptop, desktop, or tablet–students who rely on smartphones to complete their homework are challenged with smaller screens and fewer features, along with a lack of full functionality. This makes it difficult or impossible for students to complete assignments requiring detailed writing, editing, calculations, and graphics. Limits on monthly data may also complicate matters.

3. 4.7 million Black, Latino, Asian, and American Indian/Alaska Native families combined lack the high-speed home internet service necessary to support online learning. Overall, just 23 percent of all households with children do not have high-speed home internet, and roughly 10 percent do not have a computer. But these rates are drastically different when analyzed by race. Thirty-four percent of American Indian/Alaska Native families and about 31 percent each of Black and Latino families lack high-speed home internet, compared to only 21 percent of White families.

4. 4.6 million families who earn less than $50,000 per year do not have access to high-speed home internet. Four in 10 families earning less than $25,000 annually do not have high-speed internet at home, and three in 10 do not have a computer.

5. 1.7 million households in non-metropolitan or rural areas do not have high-speed home internet. The greatest disparities are observed in rural southern and southwestern states–nearly 42 percent of families in Mississippi lack high-speed home internet.

“The statistics are sobering,” said U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY), who introduced the Emergency Education Connections Act in the House of Representatives. “Nearly 17 million kids do not have the tools to continue their studies at home. Over 20 percent of households in New York lack high-speed internet access at home. Unless Congress intervenes, millions of kids’ futures are at risk. I recognize the grave challenge students and educators face in our nation and I’m fighting to get funding to ensure all kids can continue their studies from the safety of their homes.”

“Today’s report is a timely reminder about why Congress must take immediate action to bridge the homework gap in our next coronavirus relief package,” said U.S. Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass), who sponsored the Emergency Education Connections Act in the Senate. “As this important report highlights, nearly 17 million students lack the broadband connectivity they need to continue their education online during this crisis, with the children of low-income families, rural areas, and communities of color at a disproportionate risk of being left behind. In order to prevent the homework gap from becoming an ever larger learning gap, Congress must include my Emergency Educational Connections Act in the next COVID relief bill to allocate at least $4 billion through the E-Rate program to provide internet service and devices to our most vulnerable children.”

Material from a press release was used in this report.

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Laura Ascione
About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura


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