E-rate and the Homework Gap December 20, 2017
BY AMY ROBINSON
Whether sitting on a curb outside a library after hours, or “digitally loitering” in McDonald’s to use the Wi-Fi, students across the nation are struggling to complete their homework without Internet access at home. As FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel states, “Today, seven in ten teachers assign homework that requires broadband access. But data from the FCC shows that as many as one in three households do not subscribe to fixed-location Internet service. Where those numbers overlap is what I call the homework gap.”
According to the Senate Joint Economic Committee, the homework gap impacts 12 million children across the country. So how can schools and libraries help close the gap?
The Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition recently held a webinar to explore how E-rate funding can help close the homework gap. The E-rate Program, also known as the Schools and Libraries Program, provides funding to schools and libraries for broadband access to the Internet. As John Harrington, the CEO of Funds for Learning, noted in the webinar, “E-rate funding is the single largest source of education technology funding in America.”
E-rate funding can significantly improve student access to the Internet within school and library walls, indirectly closing the homework gap. For instance, if a library provides increased wireless Internet coverage and user capacity, then more students can finish their homework online. However, this still does not address the problem that students can’t access the Internet using high-capacity, fixed-location connectivity methods at home.
Seeking Solutions Beyond E-rate
Imagine this scenario. Students without home Internet access live just across the street from the school. The school is not using its network after hours.
Why can’t those students just access the school Internet?
Funds for Learning found that almost a million low-income inhabitants live within a quarter mile of a school or library. This means that schools or libraries could potentially have a huge impact on the homework gap simply by allowing their after-hours Internet capacity to be used by the surrounding households.
Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) in Colorado is attempting to address that very real-world scenario by seeking solutions outside of E-rate. Andrew Moore, the CIO of BVSD, launched Connect My Education (ConnectMe), an initiative that provides Internet access to nearby families.
“It’s about leadership, rallying the right troops and looking for solutions,” says Harrington. “It is community by community, building by building.”
Leveraging after-hours capacity could be a boon to closing the homework gap, as digital learning does not stop at the school walls. As Moore noted in the webinar, “In the year 2017 school happens anywhere, on any device.”
While we wait for the E-rate regulatory changes that help close the homework gap, innovative community leaders, like Moore, are stepping up to the challenge.
The archived recording of SHLB’s E-rate & The Homework Gap webinar is available to SHLB Members. SHLB thanks ENA for sponsoring its ongoing Grow2Gig+ webinar series.