- A new study from the University of Notre Dame published in the Journal of Marketing Research finds a correlation between increased internet access spending in school districts and improvements in academic performance — as well as potential disciplinary consequences.
- In their examination of data from more than 9,000 public schools in Texas between 2000 to 2014, as well as surveys of 3,924 parents, the study's coauthors found a $600,000 increase in annual internet access spending, for example, could produce a financial gain of approximately $820,000 to $1.8 million from test score increases, though losses from disciplinary problems could cost schools between $25,800 to $53,440 from lower attendance rates and administrative expenses related to suspensions and expulsions.
- While the researchers found increased internet access could lead to a rise in negative behaviors like cyberbullying, lead author Yixing Chen, an assistant professor of marketing at Notre Dame, suggests this highlights the need for strategic planning in internet investments, including online safety training and strong consideration of the boundaries of school access.
The research comes at a time when internet access is the difference between school or no school for millions of U.S. students due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Though advocacy group EducationSuperHighway declared "mission accomplished" on school connectivity in 2019, with 99% of schools connected to high-speed broadband, a lack of home access for many students was contributing to a "homework gap" prior to the pandemic as assignments became increasingly dependent upon digital resources.
“The positive synergy between this and household internet access suggests districts’ efforts to incentivize and help parents obtain access can be a good way to help their students, but must be coupled with better strategies for mitigating any negative unintended consequences,” Chen said in a news release.
An estimated 12 million students remain disconnected from home internet, according to data from Common Sense, Boston Consulting Group and the Southern Education Foundation. Though efforts have been made at the federal, state and district levels to bridge the digital divide, factors such as poverty and lack of local infrastructure to support high-speed home internet remain difficult hurdles to fully overcome.
In that vein, the Notre Dame research could also be used by administrators when advocating for additional funding from lawmakers to bridge the digital divide, demonstrating that the benefits outweigh the potential downsides, and that those downsides can be mitigated with investment in additional technology planning and safeguards.
According to Notre Dame's news release, Chen plans to expand his research into a benchmark database that includes data on public school performance metrics, finances and school and neighborhood characteristics, in addition to working with nonprofit GreatSchools to improve K-12 strategic planning.