The goal of the updated ” Digital Equity ” toolkit by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) is to provide a pragmatic approach to education and community leaders who want to shrink the homework gap for K-12 students, according to CoSN project manager Sue Bearden.
The toolkit — an updated version of the original document, first published in February of 2016 — addresses the homework gap from a “holistic” and community-driven perspective, Bearden said. Five new direct actions are recommended, including Wi-Fi on school buses, public-private partnerships with internet service providers (ISPs), loaner mobile hotspots and private and low-cost broadband and LTE networks.
“We wanted it to be as practical as possible,” Bearden told EdScoop, in trying to ensure that students have access to high-speed broadband service in some way at home, in order to complete digital homework assignments. An FCC-mandated report from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) confirmed that the gap can be glaring, particularly for rural students.
The update kit also includes use cases. At Boulder Valley School District near Boulder, Colorado, the district allowed local ISPs to install networking equipment on the roof of two school buildings for free, in exchange for providing free internet to low-income families with students in that particular neighborhood. The ISPs could also use the equipment to offer paid internet access to other customers — an example of the mutually beneficial partnerships that CoSN is urging districts to engage in.
Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee recently said the homework gap is the equivalent of giving textbooks to some school-age children but not others, and said that while a universal solution might not exist, the need for change is nationwide.
The IES report found that 39 percent of households in the U.S. with school-age children lack internet access, something Bearden and her colleagues took into consideration when updating the toolkit.
“The digital equity toolkit is a practical guide for education leaders looking to address digital equity challenges in their communities,” said Diane Doersch , chief technology and information officer of Green Bay (Wisconsin) Area Public Schools, in a statement. “As teachers incorporate digital resources in instruction, this guide will help educators ensure their students have the necessary tools for academic success.”