- New research on students who took the ACT test, conducted by the ACT Center for Equity in Learning, found that 85% of underserved (meaning low income, minority, or first generation in college) students had access to only one device at home, most often a smartphone.
- American Indian/Alaskan, Hispanic/Latino, and African American students had the least access. White and Asian students had the most.
- Nearly a quarter of students who reported that family income was less that $36,000 a year had access to only a single device at home, a 19% gap compared to students whose family income was more than $100,000.
The digital divide, the gap between students who lack access to technology and those who don't, is compounding equity problems within U.S. schools. It's sometimes referred to as the homework gap, since the lack of access to technology especially impedes a student's ability to complete homework and online assignments. This situation can only be expected to grow worse, as teachers more routinely incorporate technology into their daily curricula.
One recommendation for school leaders is expanding access to devices and faster internet speeds. Administrators might consider programs that help to rectify device and internet access imbalances, such as one-to-one laptop initiatives, Qualcomm’s Wireless Reach or the private-sector Kajeet.
Since smartphones seem to be ubiquitous, even among the underserved, a key move by school leaders is to make sure teachers are assigning electronic materials that can be easily found, viewed and used on phones. They can also be mindful of the amount of data a particular assignment might use. The most commonly reported home internet connection in the ACT survey was a monthly cellular data plan. Especially in instances when a single phone is shared among family members, data allowances can be eaten up quickly, leaving families with a high bill and the possibility of phones being turned off for non-payment.
Lastly, even students relying on just a monthly cellular data plan report their home internet is higher quality, more reliable, and faster than the internet connection at school. The ACT researchers recommend that districts and states fast-track improving internet access, especially in the most technologically challenged schools.