Progress Made on Closing the Digital Divide

As all principals know, changes in how the world connects has made a significant impact on the way we organize school records, communicate with parents, and collaborate with other educators. But it has perhaps most greatly affected how students conduct research and complete group projects and other school assignments, which puts students who don’t have broadband internet at home at a great disadvantage. Many are calling this new digital divide the “homework gap,” and ultimately it can impact their academic success.

As a member of the Education and Library Networks Coalition (EdLiNC), NASSP previously submitted comments to the Federal Communications Commission concerning modernization of the Lifeline program, a Reagan era program that provides subsidies for phone access to low-income households. EdLiNC and other groups have pushed to transition the program from phone subsidies to a broadband Internet subsidy. On Tuesday, the FCC Chairman put forth a proposal to do just that along with streamlining the program rules and improving the management of the program. This week, President Obama also announced a new initiative called ConnectALL that will build on the success of ConnectED and focus on connecting 20 million more Americans to broadband by 2020.

A new issue brief from the White House Council of Economic Advisors quantifies the economic benefits that access to the Internet provides in the 21st century. According to the brief, access to the Internet for job search purposes yield better labor market outcomes. Internet access can also mean better access to medical information, especially in rural areas, and has been linked to greater civic participation. They also cite a survey of 14- to 18-year-old students, which that found half of these teenagers use a library computer to complete homework assignments, as evidence of the importance of a broadband connection for a student’s academic success.

The FCC Lifeline program does face one key issue: The majority of people eligible for the program do not participate. This raises the question of how effective the Lifeline program can be in closing the digital divide and if there are other policy solutions that might have a greater impact. NASSP has been following the homework gap issue and previously wrote a blog post on bills in Congress that attempt to address this problem. Stay tuned here on the School of Thought blog for more information.

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