Nationwide Survey of Teachers Reveals Digital Divide Far from Closed

Gap in technology puts lower-income students and students of color at a disadvantage
Common Sense Media
Wednesday, September 18, 2019

SAN FRANCISCO, Sept. 18, 2019—As students all over the country are settling back into school, Common Sense is releasing The Homework Gap: Teacher Perspectives on Closing the Digital Divide, a nationwide survey of teachers revealing troubling evidence of the continuing "homework gap," a divide between students who have home broadband internet access and students who do not. The survey shows that students in lower-income schools continue to miss out on opportunities for learning that will help set them up for success because their teachers are less likely to assign homework requiring digital tools. 

"As long as the homework gap persists, teachers cannot prepare the students of today for the jobs of tomorrow," said James Steyer, CEO of Common Sense. "We cannot afford to shortchange lower-income students and students of color, simply because of a lack of broadband and computer access at home. State and federal policymakers must push for critical changes so all kids can succeed." 

“Today, homework and high-speed internet service go hand-in-hand.  But as this report makes clear, too many students are struggling because they lack the broadband access they need to complete nightly schoolwork, said Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. “This homework gap is the cruelest part of our new digital divide. So this report is a welcome contribution to the effort to fix it. We need to make this a national imperative. Because if we want every student to have a fair shot at digital age success, we must ensure that no child is left offline.”

While a majority of students have access to mobile devices, these devices do not offer students the same tools as an internet-enabled computer for research, reporting, creating, and connecting. Students who lack broadband or computer access at home are most likely to come from African American, Latinx, and Native American families. Students either have to do homework without an internet connection or find creative ways to connect, sometimes spending money at cafés and stores to get Wi-Fi or sitting outside their schools or libraries after they close to get their homework done. 

Selected key findings and recommendations:

  1. Broadband internet access is essential for students to do schoolwork at home. As grade levels increase, teachers are more likely to assign homework that requires access to digital devices and/or broadband internet outside of school. 

  2. Teachers are in a difficult spot because not all students have access to the internet or a computer at home. Four out of 10 teachers say that many of their students do not have adequate home access to the internet or a computer to do schoolwork at home. 

  3. Lower-income students and students of color are more likely to lack home access to the internet or a computer. Teachers in Title I schools or in schools with more than three-quarters of students of color are more likely to say that more than 60% of their students do not have home access to the internet or a computer. 

  4. Students of color are losing out on critical learning opportunities because teachers are not assigning homework that requires broadband internet access. Teachers in schools with predominantly students of color are more likely to say that it would limit their students' learning if they did not have adequate access to broadband internet or a computing device at home to do homework.

  5. Closing the homework gap is key to achieving equity in schools. It starts with a commitment to providing affordable broadband access to every student; understanding the gaps in connectivity, affordability, infrastructure, and broadband competition; and support for schools, libraries, and community broadband organizations.

This latest survey is part of the digital equity work from Common Sense and will inform advocacy efforts with state and federal policymakers to make critical changes so all kids can succeed. 

Methodology: 

This survey was conducted among 1,208 U.S. K–12 teachers by Rockman et al and national survey sampling consultants Peter Gold, Jordan Losen, and Joe Citoli (VeraQuest Inc.) and with three focus groups with nine teachers in the Midwest region. 

 

About Common Sense

Common Sense is the nation's leading nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in the 21st century. Learn more at commonsense.org.

 

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