School & District Management

Lack of Home Internet Access Is Educational Hardship, Report Suggests

By Alyson Klein — September 18, 2019 2 min read
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Teachers may worry students spend too much time on digital devices. But there’s a flip side to that problem: Many kids don’t have any access to internet services at home.

That makes completing class assignments difficult, especially in the later grades. And the problem is especially acute in high-poverty schools where more than three-quarters of students are students of color, according to a report released Wednesday by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit based in San Francisco that focuses on children, technology, and media.

In fact, 12 percent of teachers say that more than 60 percent of their students don’t have the kind of internet connectivity at home needed to get homework done.

Because of that reality, teachers in high-poverty schools are more likely to avoid assigning homework that requires digital access outside of school. Forty-two percent of teachers at high-poverty schools say they steer clear of giving students work that they’ll need an internet connection to complete, compared with 31 percent of teachers at schools that don’t receive federal Title I money for children in poverty.

What’s more, the problem is likely exacerbated as students’ educational careers advance. Only 20 percent of teachers in kindergarten through second grade assign kids homework that requires access to a digital device or broadband connection outside of school. But 41 percent of high school teachers do.

So what does this mean for policymakers? There needs to be a much bigger push to expand broadband at the community level, including in schools, libraries, and public housing projects, Common Sense recommends. That includes funding state and national broadband programs, including supporting an expansion of the federal E-rate program.

To be sure, there have been some major improvements in broadband over the last decade. Since 2012, the number of students with strong broadband in their classrooms has catapulted from just 4 million to 45 million.

That means: These students have a fiber optic connection to their school, Wi-Fi access in their classrooms, and meet a minimum standard of 100 kilobits per student. (That’s the basic threshold that allows some classes in a school to use technology, like streaming a video or doing a personalized learning lesson, but not the whole school, all at once.)

The increase is thanks in large part to an overhaul of the federal E-rate program enacted during the Obama administration. And this could surface politically again. At least one presidential candidate, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has proposed expanding rural broadband.

Image: Getty

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.