A long-awaited report on access to digital learning hit the newsstands this week with a familiar headline: a digital divide, known as the homework gap in education circles, persists, especially for students of color, students from low-income families, and students in rural areas.
Released by Institute of Education Sciences (IES), an arm of the National Center for Education Statistics, on April 4, 2018, Student Access to Digital Learning Resources Outside of the Classroom found large gaps in both connectivity and access depending on the racial and ethnic background, economic status, and location of a students’ family.
The report was required under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and was supposed to be released in June 2017. When the deadline was missed, the Alliance for Excellent Education joined the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) and 18 other organizations in a coalition letter calling for it to be released as soon as possible, given the critical information it reveals about home access to high-speed broadband internet, especially for historically underserved students.
Lack of Access in Rural Areas
According to the report, students in suburban areas had more access to fixed broadband at home, 84 percent, than did students in rural areas, 71 percent. Unsurprisingly, students in remote rural areas had less access to fixed broadband, at 65 percent, than their peers in other geographic areas.
Adding the lens race and ethnicity amplifies even larger gaps in access for students in these rural areas. Higher numbers of students of color in rural areas had either no internet access or only dial-up access (41 percent of African American students and 26 percent of Latino students), compared to their white (13 percent) and Asian (11 percent) peers.
Breakdown by Race and Ethnicity
Regardless of locale, students of color and students from low-income families had less internet access than their peers. As demonstrated by the figure below, there’s an 18-percentage-point gap in fixed broadband access between white students and their African American peers. A similar difference of 16 percentage points exists for Latino students and an even larger gap of 28 percentage points for American Indian/Alaska Native students when compared with their white peers.
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