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Wifi connectivity is key to closing the homework gap.

5 steps to closing the homework gap

Closing the homework gap is challenging, but here are five steps school leaders can take to help students stay connected

Schools are facing new challenges now that most learning involves the web—chiefly, the ability to do work at home or anywhere away from school grounds. While many are looking for ways to provide all students with a device, just having the device does not mean equitable learning–especially when it comes to closing the homework gap.

All students need to have the same access to WiFi, and thus the ability to use the device, whether they are at school or not.

Related content: Here’s how districts are closing the homework gap

In the edWebinar “Closing the Homework Gap: Digital Equity for All Students,” the presenters talked about the challenges and potential solutions to fulfill the promise of anytime, anywhere learning.

Using CoSN’s one-sheet, Closing the Homework Gap, as a guide, they highlighted five key steps for providing equity.

1. Create a common vision: As Dr. Carol L. Kelley, Superintendent of Oak Park Elementary School District 97, IL, explained, this isn’t about deciding what technology a district uses. Equitable access should be a part of a larger discussion about how the schools are serving their students’ needs. In her district, for example, they have four goals related to providing students the equal opportunity to learn. None of them talk about technology; instead, they look at how to leverage technology to achieve that goal.

2. Convening your community for action: Just as the vision plan is developed with stakeholder support, Michael Arensdorff, Senior Director of Technology at Oak Park Elementary School District 97, said he meets regularly with an advisory committee (which can include students and a representative of the Oak Park Public Library as well as other district educators and leadership) to discuss their needs. For instance, one barrier to access was library cards. The school streamlined the process and included library card registration with overall school registration. David J. Seleb, Executive Director of the Oak Park Public Library, said that these types of partnerships are part of the library’s overall purpose, which includes breaking barriers to access and providing equity for the whole community. The library staff constantly communicates with community leaders to find out how they can assist them; again, technology is the tool, not the end goal.

3. Get creative about WiFi and hotspot deployment: When it came to developing the district’s plan to create equitable access, Arensdorff said they reached out to teachers, colleagues, vendors, and their school community. They needed to know where the community saw the barriers, especially home WiFi access, and how the district could help. By talking with vendors and other districts, they were able to find grants and other programs to help facilitate access.

Related content: Spotty internet content limits rural students’ achievement

4. Learn how others are closing the homework gap: Like Arensdorff, Dr. Beth Holland, Digital Equity Project Director at CoSN, said there is value in talking with colleagues and finding out how other schools tackled the equity issue. She reminded attendees, though, that there is a danger in generalizing. There’s a tendency, she said, to say, “Oh, urban schools need these components and rural schools should use this approach,” or, “Here’s how you do this in New York, and here’s what you do for Iowa.” Instead, administrators should combine their research with their knowledge of their unique community and see what pieces might work for them and where they might need to come up with their own solutions. For example, in some communities, tech surveys need to go out in multiple languages, but in others home visits or phone calls might work better.

5. Don’t forget the training: Although seemingly obvious, each presenter reminded attendees that there should be ongoing tech training for students and staff. Some can be done by teacher-librarians; other tools might require assistance from a vendor. Most important, said Holland, is avoiding one-time sessions.

“The research has shown…that the most successful professional learning is focused. It’s very specific to grade level, subject level, skill level—whatever it is you’re trying to do,” commented Holland. “What’s really important is it has to be ongoing and situated in context. And so the one-and-done workshop can be great for sparking an idea, but to think we’re going to bring about real classroom change with a one-day workshop, it isn’t really going to happen.”

About the presenters

Dr. Carol L. Kelley is superintendent of Oak Park Elementary School District 97, a PreK–8 public school system in Oak Park, IL, with 6,150 students. Dr. Kelley is deeply committed to addressing historical disparities in school systems and realizing a compelling vision of educational equity for every student. A sought-after speaker and thought leader, she has been widely recognized for her professional work and contribution to education. Before joining District 97, Dr. Kelley spent three years as Superintendent of Schools for the Branchburg Township School District in New Jersey. Previously, she was Director for Curriculum and Instruction for Hunterdon Central Regional High School in New Jersey. Earlier, she served as a building administrator and elementary teacher, also in New Jersey.

Michael Arensdorff has worked in Oak Park School District 97 in Illinois since 2007. He has been the senior director of technology for the last five years. He manages a cutting-edge technology team that implemented a 1:1 program for grades three to eight in 2013-14 of over 4000 devices (refreshed in 2017-18), a new VOIP system, and a transformative copier solution. He assisted in the move of an administrative/data center office and is in the midst of planning a joint fiber build project with the Village of Oak Park. Michael’s work has included the voices of students, staff and families in a variety of capacities, with the Technology Advisory Committee being the spotlight of this work. He was recently a panelist on at a statewide event on data and security. Michael is a Board member for the Illinois Educational Technology Leaders (IETL) Organization.

David J. Seleb has served as Executive Director of the Oak Park Public Library in Illinois since May 2013. Previously Library Director of the Indian Trails Library District based in Wheeling, IL, David also served as director of the Winnetka-Northfield Public Library District and the Blue Island Public Library. He was Director of Consulting and Continuing Education with the Metropolitan Library System and today remains active in the Illinois Library Association (ILA). Mostly recently, David served as the Board President of the SWAN area consortium, was a member of the ILA Nominating Committee, the Chair of the ILA Public Policy Committee, and the Chair of the ILA Fundraising Committee. With 18 years of library management experience, David earned his master’s degree in library and information science from Dominican University in 1995, and his bachelor’s degree from Saint Xavier University in 1989.

Dr. Beth Holland is the digital equity project director for the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) and a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Rhode Island. Over the past 20 years, she has taught in K-12 classrooms, served as Director of Academic Technology in a PS-8 independent school, designed professional learning experiences for schools around the world, and developed leadership programs to support systemic change. Additionally, she is a prolific writer, researcher, and speaker. Dr. Holland holds an education doctorate (EdD) in entrepreneurial leadership in education from Johns Hopkins University, a master’s degree (EdM) in technology, innovation, and education from Harvard University, as well as a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree in communications from Northwestern University.

About the host

Ann McMullan is a 34-year veteran educator who served as the executive director for educational technology in the Klein Independent School District, located just outside Houston, Texas until September 2013, when she and her family moved to Los Angeles, California. For 16 years Ann led the team in Klein ISD that provided professional development on technology and 21st century instructional strategies to over 4,000 professional educators serving over 50,000 students. During that time Ann also co-chaired the Texas Education Technology Advisory Committee which developed the Texas Education Agency’s Long Range Plan for Technology, 2006-2020.

Today, Ann is based in Los Angeles, California, working as a public speaker, writer, and independent education consultant focused on supporting leadership, visioning and planning to meet the needs of today’s students. She is a frequent presenter at state, national and international education conferences. Ann serves on the Advisory Council of Project Tomorrow and is a leadership consultant with Executive Service Corps of Southern California, serving non-profit associations. In the fall of 2016 Ann co-authored and published Life Lessons in Leadership.

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This broadcast was sponsored by ClassLink and co-hosted by CoSN and The recording of the edWebinar can be viewed by anyone here.

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