'Homework gap' narrowing for one Nebraska school district


The “homework gap” is not just a talking point anymore – one school district is taking action.

Officials at the second-largest public school district in Nebraska have decided to extend library hours for those kids who may not have sufficient – or any – internet access at home.

Lincoln Public Schools, which serves nearly 40,000 students in more than 60 schools and programs, is allowing students to do their homework during extended hours using Wi-Fi access points in high school libraries, according to the Lincoln Journal Star.

Northeast and Lincoln high school libraries will be open until 8 p.m. from Monday to Thursday during the school year, while Southeast High students will be able to “check out” Wi-Fi hotspots so they can connect from home.

The homework gap, which typically affects low-income families who do not have access to internet, has been turned into a hot-button issue by education experts, politicians and regulators. Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel has made it a staple of her policy speeches, the White House has talked about how to address the digital divide, and organizations like CoSN have made digital equity a major priority.

Some districts have tackled the problem by offering wifi on school buses while kids are going to and from school.

At the same time that LPS is offering the extended hours, the district is also launching a one-to-one initiative and will provide all students in grades 3-12 with Chromebooks.

About 11 percent of students do not have internet access at home, according to an informal survey done at Culler Middle School, which is part of LPS. The school district has already partnered with the city of Lincoln to ensure that students can connect to the network in libraries.

“We want to see what participation is like,” Liz Standish, associate superintendent of business affairs, told the newspaper. “We genuinely do not know how many students have that need during nighttime hours.”

The new Chromebook program is slated to begin this fall at Southeast and Northeast high schools.

Officials say they want the libraries of the four other LPS high schools to remain open until at least 5 p.m. so students can connect to the Wi-Fi. Officials plan to monitor how frequently the libraries and Wi-Fi access points are used to scale the program’s success.

The budget for the project is $60,000. Standish said most of the cost could come from other projects, like one to expand a healthy snack program in the district that left nearly $50,000 in excess funds.

Reach the reporter at darlene.aderoju@edscoop.com and follow her on Twitter @buuukky and @edscoop_news.