The increasing ubiquity of internet access and the growing use of online information in the classroom has completely changed the learning landscape in the US schools. But at the same time, one out of five K-12 students does not have a reliable internet connection outside the school, the National Coalition for Technology in Education and Training estimates.
Although most students take advantage of connectivity throughout the school day thanks to government E-rate funding of $1.5 billion, the need for better Internet access outside the classroom is increasing. Official statistics estimate that 5 million families with school-age kids do not have a decent Internet connection at home, writes Keith Krueger of the E-School News. A significant number of these low-income families are Black or Hispanic.
Speaking at a congressional briefing held by the National Coalition for Technology in Education, Julie Evans, CEO of Project Tomorrow, said that many pupils go to places with a free, solid Internet connection, such as McDonald's, to complete their homework. Evans also stated that one in three K-12 students had to go to school early or to stay late to access the Internet to complete homework, notes Darlene Aderoju of EdScoop.
Given these numbers, three out of four school districts have a limited plan for ensuring off-campus internet. However, there are solutions to the issue with the homework gap, and several districts have been working hard to implement them.
For instance, a majority of Bangor's students are eligible for free and reduced lunch under the poverty guidelines. According to data by the Maine Department of Education, more than 2,000 out of 3,784 students qualified during the 2014-2015 school year.
The Community Development Grant Funding recently supported a pilot project in the Bangor school district to install free wireless internet in one of the poorest neighborhoods in town to help unprivileged students compete with their peers from higher-income families, writes Nick McCrea of BDN Maine. The estimated cost of the project was $27,000 plus an additional initial investment of $6,000 to run the network.
Betsy Webb, Bangor's Superintendent, explained that the network would be accessed by any student registered in the Bangor school system living in Capehart and having a school-issued computer. According to Webb, such a restriction would allow the school administration to control the proper use of the network.
Upper-grade students may bring home the laptops provided by the school, and Chromebooks are currently being distributed among the pupils in grades three to five. If successful, the pilot project may be spread to other parts of the city in the future.
The digital homework gap has also been addressed in the North Carolina Governor's state plan. Last week Governor Pat McCrory's Office released a state broadband plan identifying the areas most affected by the lack of Internet access, with schools at the top of the list. The report also revealed that the associated broadband infrastructure costs prevent internet providers from delivering affordable service to less populated rural areas in North Carolina.
According to the statistics in the report, the state is ranked ninth in terms of broadband deployment in the U.S. However, 89 percent of NC families without access live in remote, sparsely populated neighborhoods. Between 50 and 70 percent of students from Surry County have Internet access at home, and in smaller areas, the range is between 10-50 percent.
Report recommendations include gathering more detailed information on the "homework gap" issue, as well as expanding the device deliveries to students from low-income families.
The technology coordinator for Mount Airy City Schools, Justin Robertson, told Terri Flagg of the Mt. Airy News that the institutions provided avenues for students to do their assignments at school if they did not possess an Internet connection at home. She also added that the schools were informing parents about affordable internet plans.
An after-school program was available for high-poverty families to examine what their technology needs were and how the school could meet them.