For the past decade, bringing digital equity and broadband access to U.S. schools has been a main focus for educators and administrators. Thanks to nationwide efforts to pursue high-speed connectivity for K–12 students, Wi-Fi is available in more schools than ever before. In fact, 94 percent of school districts have acceptable high-speed internet, according to a report by EducationSuperHighway.
Yet five million U.S. families with school-aged children — most of them low-income — lack broadband access at home, reports the Pew Research Center. Despite that, many teachers assign digital homework that requires web access.
Schools today are working hard to address this challenge, called “The Homework Gap.” New solutions present themselves often.
Wi-Fi Integrations Help Even the Homework Playing Field
If a school district is serious about implementing a one-to-one device program, officials have to take into account how many students will be able to use those Chromebooks or tablets once they get home. It has to be part of the conversation around the proposal.
I’ve seen several innovative ways schools offer internet access to students who don’t have it at home — from parking Wi-Fi–enabled buses in rural neighborhoods to providing each student with hotspots they can take home with them. Some school districts have put Wi-Fi on their buses so students can complete their homework on their ride home.
But what happens if your district has already rolled out devices and suddenly learns a large part of your student body can’t use them for critical work? That happened to Mark Bedell, superintendent of Kansas City Public Schools, who says that his district proudly set up a one-to-one device program but failed to account for the fact that 70 percent of students did not have internet at home.
All was not lost, however. Ideally, discussions about home access should take place before purchasing one-to-one devices. In this case, KCPS saw the problem while it was happening and addressed it head on. The district now works with The 1 Million Project, an 11-market pilot to close the homework gap for 1 million low-income high school students who lack home internet access. Additionally, KCPS is talking to the local transit authority about delivering Wi-Fi to students’ homes as well.
Resources to Plan Successful Solutions Are Out There
From outfitting buses with Wi-Fi to sending kids home with hotspots, there are lots of innovative ways to start addressing equity when it comes to internet connectivity at home.
Schools don’t have to do it alone, either. Check out CoSN’s digital equity toolkit to see how you can work with local officials to improve infrastructure in your surrounding community. It will benefit the community and the students most of all.
This article is part of the "Connect IT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology" series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #ConnectIT hashtag.