We’re living in the digital age, a time where the Internet world seems intertwined with our daily lives. Or at least, that’s the way it seems to many of us.
It’s not always like that out here in the country. I teach in rural Kentucky, and I have to think long and hard before I give assignments that require an Internet connection. There have been several occasions where I’ve had to modify my homework － or even change an assignment outright － because I knew some of my students weren’t going to be able to complete the work at home. So sure, it may be the “digital age” for most people out there, but we can’t forget about the roughly 19 million Americans who still lack access to broadband Internet.
We’ve known about that digital divide for a while, so those of us teaching out here in rural areas of the U.S. naturally worry that our students may find themselves stuck in what we call the “homework gap,” lacking access to the online educational resources and homework help that their peers have. So when President Barack Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act into law in 2015, many of us working in rural education were happy to hear that the law required the federal Institute of Education Sciences (IES), part of the Department of Education, to commission a study on students’ access to broadband internet and deliver a full report to Congress by June 2017. The problem? That was eight months ago, and we still don’t have the study.
Holding Up Progress
The IES is getting hammered for the missing the deadline, and I don’t disagree with the critics. We shouldn’t have to halt progress for our students simply because the organization didn’t do its job, and that really is what this amounts to. As Keith Krueger, the CEO of the Consortium for School Networking, puts it, “The longer we wait for the overdue report, the longer students without home access to high-quality broadband connectivity remain at a disadvantage. We always ask of our students, no matter the circumstances, to turn in their assignments on time. IES should be held to the same standard.” We can’t address the homework gap issue if we don’t know the extent of it, so we need that study sooner rather than later.
The Fact That We Need The Study is Bad Enough
Back in January, a coalition of twenty different educational organizations sent a public letter to Dr. Thomas Brock, the acting director of the IES, pressuring the institute to release the report so that we can begin targeting some solutions that would help close the homework gap. It looks like the pressure has worked, because the IES has since released a timeframe for the study’s publication, and it looks like we’ll hear their findings in either March or April, nearly ten months after its initial deadline.
Looking past that, I just want everyone to realize how ridiculous it is that we’re having this conversation in 2018. As widespread as our digital footprints are, Internet access shouldn’t be a luxury for students living in a modern country like the U.S. Schools are rapidly expanding their use of web-based learning, and we know that’s not going to slow down in the future, so it just makes the need for studies like this even greater.
The fact that the IES blew their deadline matters to people like me who live and teach in rural areas, where Internet access is more limited and where students face unique needs. We need that study to start improving our tech policies and tightening up the homework gap, and I’m hopeful that we won’t have to wait much longer. After all, our students are at stake.
Photo by Ibmphoto24, CC-Licensed.