From using Smart Boards to assigning online research, teachers are expected to incorporate technology in their classrooms. It’s taken for granted that students have access to the internet at home.
“Students use technology for their education everyday as textbooks are going by the wayside ... so internet access is pretty critical,” Huntsville ISD superintendent Scott Sheppard said.
Some students have difficulty accessing internet service outside of school, even as states across the country continue to increase the demand for digital teaching means. Census data shows an estimated 17% of U.S. students do not have access to computers at home and 18% do not have home access to broadband internet in what has become known as the “homework gap,” the Associated Press reported.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 23% of households within Huntsville do not have a broadband internet subscription and nearly 9% of households are without a computer.
“It’s just an example of what it means to be economically disadvantaged ... and being economically disadvantaged for most kids, means they are going to be educationally disadvantaged as well,” Sheppard said.
School districts like Huntsville ISD, local governments and others have tried to help. Districts have initiated Chromebook programs to every student, and many communities compiled lists of wi-fi-enabled restaurants and other businesses where children are welcome to linger and do schoolwork. The city of Huntsville has recently installed public internet access points across town with open wi-fi hotspots at the public library and at Kate Barr Ross Park.
Some students study in the parking lots of schools, libraries, parks or restaurants — wherever they can find a signal.
The consequences can be dire for children in these situations, because students with home internet consistently score higher in reading, math and science. And the homework gap in many ways mirrors broader educational barriers for poor and minority students.
“Our job as educators are to eliminate the barriers and figure out ways for kids to meet their educational needs while in school,” Sheppard added. “When people say ‘we will improve education by giving more homework’… well that’s true for some kids, but no one thing is true for all kids. Kids need to be able to learn regardless of what access they have outside of school.”
A third of households with school-age children that do not have home internet cite the expense as the main reason, according to federal Education Department statistics gathered in 2017 and released in May. The survey found the number of households without internet has been declining overall but was still at 14 percent for metropolitan areas and 18 percent in nonmetropolitan areas.
A commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission, Jessica Rosenworcel, called the homework gap “the cruelest part of the digital divide.”
“In every school district I have been, we have had a high number of poverty students,” Sheppard said. “The difference with Huntsville ISD is that we are a lot of rural areas that don’t even have the option for high speed internet. When you are in an urban area, you have much more high — speed internet accessibility outside of school.
“It would be fantastic if there was more availability through other organizations with hubs for internet access. Certainly there are businesses with public Wi-fi, but if you are economically disadvantaged, that really isn’t a daily remedy either. A lot of kids can connect through their phone, but that is also limited.”
Michael Melia, Jeff Amy and Larry Feen with the Associated Press contributed to this report.