- In a rural Iowa district where many households don't have sufficient WiFi, students couldn't take full advantage of their school district's 1:1 device program and have trouble accessing online assignments, creating a notable homework gap, EdSurge reports.
- Winterset Community Schools Superintendent Susie Meade forged partnerships with local businesses to allow students to come in after school and connect to their WiFi for free, with libraries, pizzerias, and coffee shops among those showing support by displaying a decal with the district's logo and colors.
- Since the project went into motion last year, Meade told EdSurge that no businesses have called her to complain about disruptive or misbehaving students, and she's received no complaints from parents about their child's lack of internet access at home.
The homework gap, a divide between students who have devices and internet at home and those who don't, affects some 12 million young learners across the country, according to a 2017 U.S. Senate report. As schools transition to online-heavy assignments and projects, many educators don't stop to wait for students whose households don't have the broadband access to enable them to get work done after the school day ends.
A lack of access could mean a lot of things for students, including an inability to complete assignments, fewer resources to aid in learning or research, and a higher likelihood of lower performance and comprehension. And this phenomenon disproportionately hits minority and underserved students the hardest, as well as districts in rural areas.
In short, insufficient internet access is another wedge that feeds into the existing achievement gap. And while entities like the federal government — and organizations within it, including the Federal Communications Commission — say they may soon supply internet to areas that need it, schools can't rely on this potential option as the drop-dead solution. It's not only possible that the FCC won't come through, but even if it does, getting broadband to these districts is a lengthy and timely process.
As a result, school leaders can look to other districts, such as Winterset Community Schools, for inspiration in offering support to students without WiFi access at home. Partnering with local businesses, or private organizations that provide internet, can help bring hotspot availability to students who need it outside the classroom. Another way to expand internet access for students is to allow them to come to campus before or after school to use the building's network. Some schools have also experimented with bringing WiFi to school buses, where students can spend hours of their days commuting. But on the low-tech end of the spectrum, schools that have a sizable portion of students who lack home internet can adjust their assignments and curriculum to accommodate these situations.