Classroom Technology

School District Leaders Are Still Worried About Home Internet Access for Students

By Alyson Klein — June 01, 2021 2 min read
Veronica Esquivel, 10, finishes her homework after her virtual school hours while her brother Isias Esquivel sits in front of the computer, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021, at their residence in Chicago's predominantly Hispanic Pilsen neighborhood.
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Gaps in access to digital learning tools at home remain a top concern for district leaders even though schools have made huge strides over the past year to help more kids get online, according to a new survey.

The survey—conducted by the Consortium for School Networking, a membership organization for education technology professionals, in partnership with AASA, the School Superintendents Association, polled district leaders in nearly 400 urban, suburban, rural school districts across the country.

The survey results show school districts are putting much more attention on home internet connections for students. Back in 2020, when the pandemic was just a few months old, almost half of district leaders surveyed by CoSN said their districts did not provide off-campus broadband services. That percentage plummeted in 2021, with only 5 percent of leaders surveyed saying their districts don’t provide some sort of off-campus internet services.

In this most recent survey, about 70 percent of districts reported that they gave Wi-Fi hotspots to help students get connected. That’s compared with just 17 percent of districts who said they had doled out hotspots for off-campus use back in 2020. And this school year, a little over a quarter of district leaders said they worked to provide subsidized home internet for families, a big increase over last school year’s 10 percent.

Despite all this progress, technology equity issues remain a top concern for district leaders. Ninety-seven percent of district leaders ranked it as a serious issue, making it the third most urgent problem overall. What’s more, 65 percent said they had “significant” concerns about equity.

Cybersecurity, though, remains the number one priority for district leaders, with privacy and security coming in second place, according to the survey. Schools continue to face an increasing array of cybersecurity threats, especially as they use more cloud-based technology tools.

District Offices as a ‘non-stop help desk’

One of the big technology lessons of the pandemic is that schools were not prepared to make the pivot to remote and hybrid learning. It was a logistical mess in most districts.

And that was especially the case when it came to providing remote IT support, according to the survey. More than half of district leaders surveyed—61 percent—said their districts were not prepared to offer what one survey participant described as a “non-stop help desk.”

Another survey participant said, “we went from having one district network to support to having 20,000 networks to support. We were surprised by the number of people who didn’t know how to connect a device to their home network, to a printer, etc.” And another respondent noted that not all students have parents who can help with technology.

Because of all the technological challenges, parental engagement has also been transformed by the pandemic. Sixty-three percent of district leaders surveyed said they communicate with parents more often than they did before the crisis. Sixty-one percent of respondents said they gave parents technology tips, while another third said they provided teaching help. Another quarter said they gave parents more detailed information about the curriculum.

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