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Closing the Homework Gap: Questions from Superintendents to the Federal Communications Commission

It’s no secret that the current global pandemic has completely derailed many aspects of everyday life. We’re all living it. Some of the things we’ve taken for granted, from social interactions with friends, to gathering at a place of worship, to attending a local sporting event, have come to a standstill. Statewide shutdowns also have forced educators to redefine their practice, some literally overnight. For students, cancelled sports seasons and proms, postponed graduations, and the loss of instructional time and social interactions, have become their new normal. For all Americans, many facets of everyday life as we’ve known them have been completely altered. Yet, in the midst of such a drastic paradigm shift, there are some things that remain exactly the same.

Prepandemic, some students had the connectivity they needed, while other students did not. Today, this issue remains the same, however, with far greater consequences. Not having connectivity for afterschool needs puts students in difficult situations. Not having connectivity when all course work has transitioned online for remote learning, removes a student’s educational opportunity. COVID-19 has not only taken lives, it’s exacerbated opportunity gaps and disparities that always existed.

Currently, 50 million students in the United States are out of school. Of these students, some log in and receive the best “remote learning” their district can offer. In other homes, students remain logged out, with an increase in learning loss with each passing day.

The magnitude of the issue is vast. Approximately 12 million students do not have home internet access, which includes nearly 20 percent of Black and Latino students. It’s precisely why more than 8,000 educators recently called on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to expand internet access.

Fortunately for students, educators are some of the most creative and dynamic leaders on the planet. In seeking every possible option to support their students, we at Future Ready Schools (FRS) connected three superintendents with FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, so that the superintendents could ask how best to tackle the homework gap challenges that are prevalent in their communities.

Question #1: Julie Mitchell, Superintendent, Rowland Unified School District, California

Question #2: Marlon Styles, Superintendent, Middletown City Schools, Ohio

On Thursday, May 7, Superintendent Styles testified before the House Committee on Education and Labor about remote learning during the global pandemic, sharing, “I lose sleep at night about the ‘logged out’ kids whose top priority is ‘survival’—not remote learning.” In his testimony, Styles shared,

Logged-in students are at home engaging in learning on a laptop. They have daily virtual access to their teachers for guidance, instruction, and support. Logged-in students are using a variety of educational digital platforms to support their learning. Logged-in students are able to virtually participate in meetings with their peers to participate in developmentally appropriate peer groups. Survey data from our community is very positive.

Logged-out students are at home without a device and/or without reliable internet access. They pick up packets of worksheets to complete at home. Oftentimes, logged-out students do not have the school supplies at home to complete assignments or activities found in the packets. These students wait for letters in the mail or phone calls from their teachers each day. The logged-out student is not receiving a high-quality education. …

Brown, Black, Appalachian, rural, urban, disabled, and low socio-economic students too often represent the students who are logged out. This is the homework gap. We must connect all kids now.

Question #3: David Miyashiro, Superintendent, Cajon Valley Union School District, California

Superintendents Mitchell, Styles, and Miyashiro represent a few of the thousands of school district superintendents who serve high-need communities, and together with their teams work to leave no stone unturned in finding the needed resources for the students they serve. Yet, they cannot go at it alone, nor can more than 13,000 school districts problem solve this issue independently.

Congress is now debating whether to provide funding to close the homework gap. Some in Congress have no intention of doing so, while others have proposed serious investments. In the Senate, nearly every Democrat has cosponsored legislation that would provide $4 billion to close the homework gap. The latest proposal in the House says that $5 billion should be allocated, but only provides $1.5 billion—far less than what is needed. Now is the time to act and close the homework gap.

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We must keep schools open online, even if school buildings remain closed. Our students’ futures depends on it.

Tom Murray (@thomascmurray) serves as the Director of Innovation for Future Ready Schools® at the Alliance for Excellent Education.