A New Analysis Shows Larger K-12 Student Digital Divide, Affects Teachers, Too

With the prospect of another distance learning school year on the horizon due to the coronavirus pandemic, a new analysis released today finds that a full 15 to 16 million public school students across the United States live in households without adequate internet access or computing devices to facilitate distance learning. The analysis, from Common Sense and Boston Consulting Group, also finds that almost 10% of public school teachers (300,000 to 400,000) are also caught in the gap, affecting their ability to run remote classes. The 32-page report, Closing the K–12 Digital Divide in the Age of Distance Learning, fixes a one-year price tag of at least $6 billion and as much as $11 billion to connect all kids at home, and an additional $1 billion to close the divide for teachers. "This new report shows that not only is the distance learning gap larger than previously estimated but that too many teachers are caught in it, too, and it will require significant and immediate investments from Congress to close it," said James P. Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense. "This new data and analysis further highlights the urgency for policymakers, educators, and private companies to address this basic educational equity issue that affects kids in every state. Our report makes clear that during this age of distance learning, we have to act right now to close the digital divide that is leaving millions of kids behind." The new report, with state-by-state data, carefully establishes the technical requirements for adequate distance learning and examines the specific needs of different segments of the K–12 student and teacher populations with distance learning technology gaps. The report, which also highlights the need for digital literacy training for families unfamiliar with digital technology, finds that the states with the largest K–12 digital divide are largely in the south, with Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Alabama showing the largest deficit by proportion, and Texas, California, and Florida the largest gaps by population. But, as the report notes, every state has a problem. "Even among states with the smallest divides, approximately one in four students do not have an adequate internet connection," the report concludes.

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