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School Connectivity Improves but Homework Gap Still Persists

This article was published on:
October 31, 2019

As a project of Voqal, Mobile Citizen believes that making internet access available at an affordable price advances social equity. One way we advance this equity is by providing low-cost mobile internet hotspots to schools to help them address the Homework Gap. The following is an excerpt from a blog post written by Voqal’s director of telecommunications strategy, Mark Colwell, addressing a recent report from EducationSuperHighway and what it means for the future of student internet connectivity.

Last week, EducationSuperHighway declared “mission accomplished” with regard to the K-12 connectivity gap. It is important to understand exactly what they are claiming.

Back in 2014, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved significant E-Rate changes. E-Rate is one of the four Universal Service Fund (USF) subsidy programs and is designed to connect schools and libraries across the country. In 2014, the FCC set a goal for schools to deliver 100 Kbps per student in the short term and 1 Mbps per student in the long term.

The report released last week shows that 99% of schools have met the 100 Kbps goal and “are on scalable connections.” “Those schools have a clear path to delivering enough bandwidth for digital learning in every classroom, every day.” The report also rightly credits the Obama-era FCC rules in helping to reach this goal. While this progress is worthy of celebration, the report goes on to show that only 38% of schools have met the 1 Mbps goal.

The key takeaway for Voqal (and Mobile Citizen) is that because the E-Rate modernization of 2014 has been so successful, 99% of schools have been able to connect to fiber and meet the shorter-term goal of minimum connectivity for students on campus. In addition, the FCC allowing for Wi-Fi routers and other internal equipment has helped schools meet this goal. But as more bandwidth is available at schools, more teachers are assigning digital assignments that require an internet connection. Many schools have moved away from paper books to digital books and online-only learning materials.

In fact, the EducationSuperHighway report shows that: “Across the country, 87% of teachers say they use digital learning in their classroom several times a week.” Another stat from their report shows that “93% of school districts are using digital learning in at least half of their classrooms every week and 85% of teachers and principals support the increased use of digital learning in their schools.”

Schools can and should pursue the use of digital materials because students need these skills to succeed. School connectivity is obviously very vital for students to complete this work. But the bigger issue now is about the number of students who cannot connect off-campus, otherwise known as the Homework Gap. That’s the equity crisis we face today as a society. Kids who are connected have a significant advantage. Those who are not are more likely to underachieve.

Learn more about the Homework Gap and what policymakers can do to address it in the full article on the #makingairwaves blog.