Last week, New America’s Open Technology Institute (OTI) convened a number of broadband experts and district leaders to talk through innovative approaches to addressing the ‘homework gap,’ a term that refers to the educational disparities caused by inequitable access to home Internet among preK-12 students. This issue has long caused major disparities in educational outcomes and experiences between students who do and do not have reliable, high speed home Internet connection, the appropriate devices, and the digital literacy support needed to use those devices. After the COVID-19 crisis shut forced schools into remote learning this spring, district leaders were left grappling with the severely-exacerbated challenges of un- and under-connectedness among students and teachers.
Now, health and education leaders across the country are weighing their options for the coming school year while having to consider the sustaining challenges of broadband access. Though many are anticipating some form of blended learning—in which schools are partially online and partially in person—this may look different for different districts. What’s more, federal responses to this crisis, such as CARES Act funding for schools, means a number of different options are available for addressing these various concerns.
Among the experts on the webinar were FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who has long been an advocate for federal broadband programs such as E-Rate, which has seen a renewed push recently, amid calls to better support schools in expanding Internet access. Facilitated by OTI Director Sarah Morris, the panel included Vickie Robinson of Airband USA at Microsoft, David Fringer, chief technology officer for the Council Bluffs Community School District in Iowa, chief technology officer at East Side Union High School District in Oakland, CA, and Tina Hike-Hubbard, chief communications and community engagement officer for Baltimore City Public Schools. Below are a few key takeaways from their conversation.
A full recording of the webinar can be found here.