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  • Erica Peterson

Homework Gap Widens in the Digital Divide

“Homework Gap” is a term used when talking about inequity and access to online learning. There is a growing national movement of Superintendents pushing Congress to close the equity gaps highlighted by COVID-19 and the move to distance learning. The disparity reveals a larger digital divide in the U.S., which disproportionately impacts already-disadvantaged students who will fall even further behind.

To learn more about how the Homework Gap is affecting students, I've provided summaries and excerpts of recent articles that outline the issues and propose changes to begin filling the divide.


From AASA School Superintendents Homework Gap Letter: The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a bright light on one of the worst kept secret inequities for today’s students: the homework gap. The pandemic forced more than 55 million students into a remote learning reality, resulting in an almost immediate struggle to ensure students can access online learning. It is anticipated that 12 million students across the nation lack internet access adequate to support online learning.

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From the Kansas City Star:

The broadband ‘homework gap’ is real. Missouri needs Washington’s help to close it

From Kansas City to St. Louis, and in the small towns in between, there are students who don’t have access to broadband internet at home. This is not just a Missouri issue — between 9 and 12 million U.S. school-age children don’t have the high-speed internet connectivity they need to learn from home. This shortcoming, known as the “homework gap,” disproportionately affects rural, low-income and minority students.

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From the Washington Post:

Marlon Styles Jr. is superintendent of Middletown City School District in Ohio. He gave a virtual presentation on Thursday to members of the House Committee on Education and Labor about the challenges students face during the covid-19 pandemic.

Superintendent: ‘I lose sleep at night’ about the 'logged out’ kids whose top priority is ‘survival’ — not remote learning.

Now that schools are shut down and engaging in remote learning, the equity gap is taking center stage in this country. The nation’s students do not have a choice in their learning experience when it comes to remote learning. It is already predetermined if they are either “logged in” or “logged out.” Students either have a reliable device or they do not. Students either have reliable Internet access in the home or they do not. Students are either logged in or logged out.

Logged-in students are at home engaging in learning on a laptop. They have daily virtual access to their teachers for guidance, instruction, and support. Logged-in students are using a variety of educational digital platforms to support their learning. logged in students are able to virtually participate in meetings with their peers to participate in developmentally appropriate peer groups. Survey data from our community is very positive.

Logged-out students are at home without a device and/or without reliable Internet access. They pick up packets of worksheets to complete at home. Oftentimes, logged-out students do not have the school supplies at home to complete assignments or activities found in the packets. These students wait for letters in the mail or phone calls from their teachers each day. The logged-out student is not receiving a high-quality education. The logged-out student is accustomed to the barriers to gaining an education, but the remote learning happening now creates even more barriers s/he must overcome. Survey data from our community indicates a high degree of frustration and concern for the lack of learning.

Brown, black, Appalachian, rural, urban, disabled, and low socio-economic students too often represent the students who are logged out. This is the Homework Gap. We must connect all kids now.

Prior to the school shutdown, we estimate at least 20 percent of our students (1,200) do not have Internet access at home. We anticipate an increase in the percentage as a result of the increase in unemployment during the pandemic…

I lose sleep at night knowing the logged-in students have access to high-quality remote learning opportunities while the logged-out students are at home wishing they could be in class with their teacher.

This equity gap is causing substantial learning loss. By one estimate, when it is safe for students to return to school, students may have maintained only 70 percent of their progress in reading from the 2019–2020 school year and less than half of their progress in math. Worse, these figures don’t account for the trauma students experience as a result of covid-19. Marginalized students will have experienced a significant loss of instructional time due to the closure…

Making matters even more challenging, we are now facing severe budget cuts…To put the Cares Act in perspective: This important legislation provided more than $2 trillion, but only $31 billion for education. By comparison, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed in response to the Great Recession provided $800 billion, including $100 billion for education. In other words, ARRA was half the size of the Cares Act but provided three times the level of support for education… Therefore, I join organizations nationwide in asking Congress to provide at least $175 million in state fiscal stabilization funds. And let me be clear – that is for state fiscal stabilization, so we do not lose ground. Additional resources will be necessary for us to extend learning time so we can mitigate learning loss and address equity gaps.

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