Real-time collaboration and continuous action
create ideal conditions for future success.
boilerplate image

Closing the Gap: Digital Equity Strategies for the K-12 Classroom


Closing the Gap:
Digital Equity Strategies for the K-12 Classroom

Dr. Nicol Howard, Assistant Professor and Program Coordinator, University of Redlands (CA) (@NicolRHoward)
Regina Schaffer, Future Ready Thought Leader, Instructional Technology Specialist, Middletown Township School District (NJ) (@reginaschaffer)
Dr. Sarah Thomas, Future Ready Instructional Coaches Advisor, Regional Technology Coordinator, Prince George’s County Public Schools (VA) (@sarahdateechur)

Thomas C. Murray, Director of Innovation for Future Ready Schools®, Alliance for Excellent Education (@thomascmurray)

Although incredible progress has been made, equity issues remain prevalent in schools and districts across the country. Historically underserved students often lack the needed access and opportunity that’s often afforded to their more affluent counterparts. What practical steps can educators take to help close digital equity gaps in both access and opportunity, while at home and in the classroom?

This Future Ready Schools® (FRS) webinar highlighted effective approaches to addressing digital inequities in both teacher preparation programs and in schools today; offered recommendations for moving beyond identifying an inequity into recommendations for closing the digital equity gap; and provided practical solutions to support students both in and outside of school.

Attendees will leave with key strategies to support teachers striving for digital equity in their classrooms, beyond device allocations. The ideas put forth in the webinar will challenge teacher educators, principals, and those leading professional learning to create spaces and opportunities for all teachers to apply digital equity practices.

The panelists also shared

  • insight into digital equity issues that remain in today’s schools;
  • practical tips for how to navigate the equity issues; and
  • ways that schools and districts are and can intentionally close the gaps.

Please direct questions concerning the webinar to If you are unable to watch the webinar live, please register to receive the video archive directly in your inbox.

Future Ready Schools® is a project of the Alliance for Excellent Education (All4Ed), a Washington, DC–based national policy, practice, and advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring that all students, particularly those underperforming and those traditionally underserved, graduate from high school ready for success in college, work, and citizenship.

Follow FRS on Twitter (; Facebook (; and the FRS Leadership Hub (

If you are interested in renting the Alliance’s facilities for your next meeting or webinar, please visit our facilities page to learn more.

Thomas C. Murray:    Hello, everybody, and welcome to today’s Future Ready Webinar.  I’m Tom Murray, the Director of Innovation for Future Ready Schools, a project of the Alliance for Excellent Education, located in Washington, D.C.  Future Ready Schools is a collaboration between the Alliance and a vast coalition of over 60 other national and regional organizations.  The goal of Future Ready Schools is to maximize digital learning opportunities and help school districts move quickly towards student centered learning.  The effort provides districts with resources and support to ensure that local technology and digital learning plans align with instructional best practices, are implemented by highly trained teachers, and maximize learner centered experiences for all students, particularly those from traditionally underserved communities.  The hashtag for today’s webinar, as always, is #FutureReady.


Thank you for making an investment in joining us today.  I’m going to be your host on this incredible webinar.  I am so excited for today.  It’s going to be called Closing the Gap, Digital Equity Strategies for the K-12 Classroom.  For those of you involved with Future Ready already, you know that digital equity is such core to our work.  Today we have three incredible leaders in the field going to share some of their stories, so let me introduce them quickly.


First we have Dr. Nicol Howard.  She is an Assistant Professor and Program Coordinator at the University of Redland in California.


We also have Regina Schaffer.  Regina is one of the Future Ready thought leaders for us and an Instructional Technology Specialist in the Middletown Township School District in New Jersey.


And Dr. Sarah Thomas, one of our two Future Ready Advisors for the Instructional Coaches Strand, as well as a Regional Tech Coordinator in Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland.


Ladies, what an amazing honor it is to have you all with us today.  Nicol, I’m going to go over to you first.  Can you just take a few moments to introduce yourself?


Dr. Nicol Howard:     Sure.  Thank you, first, for having us. I’m excited to be here.  So let’s see, where can I start?  I’ve been in the field of education now for about 20 years.  I have taught high school.  I’ve taught elementary school, and now currently I’m in higher ed, in teacher education.  My research centers on issues related to equity and my teaching is informed by my research as well, so this is what sort of brings me to this body of work on digital equity.


Thomas C. Murray:    Awesome.  Regina, how about you?


Regina Schaffer:         Okay.  So I am an Instruction Technology Specialist in New Jersey, like you said.  I’ve been in education over 20 years, K-8, and besides that, this year I also teach Computer Science, which is bringing another element in terms of digital equity to know my thought _____ _____ that, and so –


Thomas C. Murray:    Awesome.  Sarah, over to you.


Dr. Sarah Thomas:     Hi, everybody. My name is Sarah Thomas.  This is my 14th year in education and I’ve taught every grade from first to twelfth at some point, plus an adjunct in a Masters in Ed Tech Program.  I’m just super excited to be here today, so thanks for having us.


Thomas C. Murray:    Awesome.  What a pleasure it is.  What a vital topic.  First of all, congratulations; I understand the three of you have a new book out with ISTE.  ISTE is one of our partners around this exact topic and since this topic is so core to our work, since you are now published authors in this area, we really wanted to take a look.  One of the things that I really love about your book – I had the opportunity to take a quick look at it, but is how practical you all are in nature when it comes to it.  At Future Ready we often talk about equity really in two different ways, equity and opportunity, as well as equity and access.  I know that you guys dive into a variety of things beyond that as well.


Nicol, I’m going to start with you and we’re going to start kind of big picture here, really, with the why.  You know, at Future Ready we really start with that why, Simon Sinek’s why the circle, you know, focus on that why.  We know nationwide there’s districts that are doing incredible, incredible work in this area, and we also know there’s places that we hope a webinar like this gets the thought on the table to say, “Hey, we’ve got to wake up.  Equity is vital and core to all that we do.”


So, Nicol, I’m going to start with you.  Can you lay out like why is it so important to identify and address digital inequities?  What would you say?


Dr. Nicol Howard:     I’d say just to name it very succinctly, I would say it’s about opportunity and opportunities for all, and I think that’s why we need to identify what the inequities are in order to open the door for more opportunities for students.  We talk about all of the gaps.  We talk about achievement gap primarily, which is one of those gaps we like to address and hopefully we address that well in our book.  But we also talk about opportunity and this opportunity is not just for students in the classroom, but then how are we making sure that we’re not closing the door for them when they go home, right?  So we have to – it’s important to address the inequities to hopefully also bridge the gap between what’s happening in the classroom and what’s happening at home.


Thomas C. Murray:    Yeah.  So well said.  You know, I was in Nevada yesterday and the State Secretary was kind of giving this talk over lunch and one of the things completely relates to what you said.  She said, “So often in education we talk about the achievement gap.  Well, I’m here to tell you we have more of an opportunity gap,” and that’s really how she’s going to frame it.  I had a lot of really respect for her saying it in that regard, but it really relates to what you said.  How do we ensure all means all with what you just said?  How many times do we see districts out there highlighting, look at us, look at the amazing things that we’re doing, and we walk into their computer science classroom and every student sitting in there looks like I do, a white male sitting there?  How many times do we see something glorified on social media it’s, “Oh, all of our honors kids had that opportunity”?  So when we take a look, all meaning all, so vital there.  I totally agree.


Regina or Sarah, do you want to jump in there as well as really getting at the why being the core to this work?


Regina Schaffer:         I think you – like Nicol covered it really well and the whole thing about computer science, I’m very passionate about it now, especially because I’m teaching it and I’m involved locally with CSTA.  I was going to mention that a little bit later and I know New Jersey now has passed legislation to ensure that every single high school offers it.  But even with that, we’ll have some inequities with districts that will create pipelines for high school and then those who can’t afford to.  So you know, we still have some work to do, but I do think that we are moving in the right direction and as long you get support on the local, state, and national level we should at least be moving forward in the right direction with that.


Thomas C. Murray:    Yeah.  So well said.  Sarah, did you want to add anything?


Dr. Sarah Thomas:     I would say that Nicol and Regina covered it very well.  I know that Nicol has also done some work about representation of avatars in educational products, so I don’t know if you wanted to touch on that, but I just wanted to mention that that was pretty noteworthy.


Thomas C. Murray:    Sure.  Go ahead, Nicol.


Dr. Nicol Howard:     Yeah.  So, Sarah, thanks for that, because I do think that that is another element. It adds to the why we need to address digital inequities, because as we start to talk about digital equity we focus a lot on Wi-Fi, bandwidth, making sure that we have devices for all students. What the three of us have been really talking about is when do we look closer at what we’re choosing digitally for the students to access and use, and then are we making sure that the students feel represented within those platforms.  So I’ve had instances where students have opted out of using certain apps because they don’t see themselves in the app.  So if we start talking about this more then hopefully we’re all, as educators, being more aware of what we’re choosing to bring into the classroom, not just do we have Wi-Fi, do we have a device for every student.


Thomas C. Murray:    Absolutely, and so well said.  It’s really why at Future Ready we focus on access is part of it and the home access is part of it, the homework gap that’s going there, but the flip side being the opportunity.  I really like what you’re talking about there.  Can your students see themselves in it?  That sense of belonging is Maslow 101, is it not?  You know, at Future Ready we also talk about in learning spaces, taking a look, can kids see themselves in the classroom?  You know, if every image of success around a U.S. History/Social Studies classroom is a white male there’s multiple studies out there that show how do our students of color internalize that if they don’t feel like they belong in that space?  So, great point and really, showing the highlight there of, yeah, if kids can’t see themselves in the app in the curriculum materials, it’s going to have an impact there as well.


So we can certainly talk about this at a high level, but helping people and helping teachers actually get there is how this is going to change, that vehicle to change, as we all know, is what?  It’s professional learning.


So, Regina, I’m going to go back to you.  What are some effective models of professional learning that schools and districts may use to really build that educator capacity?


Regina Schaffer:         Okay.  First of all, I believe that we should have layers.  It should not be like a one, linear type of thing.  I believe that layers is what can address the short-term and long-term goals, and I know my district, we started with Future Ready four or five years ago.  They went to a summit in Maryland and it was a very good, overarching umbrella that informed how we went forward and moved forward with designing professional learning that would, you know, include all of the stakeholders in our district.  So I know that, you know, Future Ready is a national program.  New Jersey happens to have a state level Future Ready that’s based on the national one that’s also very practical and expands on the gears.


That being said, I think that there’s lots of different things that districts can do that are free and using their own personnel, where they don’t always have to go out and bring PD in.  In the book we have Carla Jefferson, from Darlington, South Carolina.  Her district is very innovative in the steps that they’ve taken, starting with their – like they do portfolios for all of the staff and their portfolios represent the best lessons that incorporate the four Cs and they have instructional technology people, who give them targeted and direct feedback.  So that’s one layer.


They have cohorts of innovative teachers that go through an academy with challenges.  That’s another layer.


They have the Train the Trainer model.  That way, you know, those people go back into their schools and they become the experts.  Again, you don’t have to bring people in and spend money for that kind of thing.


I know they also have a podcast that they do that, you know, not only just informs the community and the world of what they’re doing, but also is a vehicle for them to, you know, speak to the teachers as well.


So all of those things that I just mentioned are things that can be done within a district, but to me, I like the whole thing of forming a committee of stakeholders, learn, learn, learn, plan, execute, and go back, like a circular.  I have a lot more.  I don’t know if you want me to expand further.  I have a lot more I could say in terms of that.


I mean I also like when districts – I know my district just started this – offering choice when it came to PD days.  So teachers can choose to do one of the sessions that are led by other educators, or they can do something independent, like see webinars, like this one.  They can work on certifications.  They can listen to podcasts.  They can work on their PLN.  So we’ve tried to shift the ownership of professional learning to the teacher, make them more responsible for it.  That way it’s not the administrator saying we need to learn this.  We need to learn that.  Although, again, with layers I do believe that people should definitely assess, districts should assess and incorporate that in, so if you see that your staff is missing some key skills then make sure that you incorporate that way, but then also provide choice.


Would you like me to keep going?


Thomas C. Murray:    There’s so much to really mull over in what you just said, so many true best practices that you could say are effective practices is the way I would word it.  You know, at Future Ready when we look at our personalized professional learning here, it’s really getting at how do we get away from the top-down, one-size-fits-all, sit-and-get, hours-based accountability, which, from a research end really shows no impact.  So we have such a vital area here, like digital equity.  You’ve highlighted so many different great ways that things are working.


One of the hopes that I have in working with so many districts through Future Ready is that districts are doing really great things. Like, you just highlighted things that you’re trying and things that you’re doing in your district, or even being an instructional coach to be able to work side-by-side, all effective practices.


Nicol and Sarah, do you want to jump in at all in terms of the professional learning side and what you’re seeing or other recommendations?


Dr. Nicol Howard:     Sure. I’ll jump in, because I think Regina has named some really great things.  I’d say if a district isn’t ready yet to jump to committee level work there are also very simple entry points, like starting a club, right?  We do clubs for kids all of the time, so the digital equity doesn’t stop with the students. What about the digital equity for teachers?


Let’s have a coding camp.  I did this while I worked as a Program Specialist in Santa Ana Unified and I had the teachers actually come to district and they were the members of the coding camp as they prepared to do coding and computer science with their students in their own classroom.  So I think we can. It’s about creating the space for the teachers.


Within those coding camps we also had teachers identify a problem that they wanted to solve, so it’s that circle that Regina mentioned.  It’s this coming in with the problem, figuring out how to address the problem together, and then going through the steps of how we can solve it, and then let’s come back together and let’s talk and share what worked best for each individual teacher.


So I mean it’s very simple when you think of it.  It’s ongoing.  It doesn’t stop. You don’t just have one workshop and then it ends there, so the idea of the camp or the club is that it just continues, and they meet again.  They meet periodically and sort of also build community.


Thomas C. Murray:    Yeah. And I would just add also whether – I think there’s a significant need for, you know, bias training in our own lens, how we see things, empathy training in terms of when we talk about the equity side we see things through our own lens and there’s so many equity issues that we might just not, as teachers, be aware of or see through.  I think there are also other areas of professional learning to help us, whether it’s digital equity, or equity in general, can help us really foster that.


So, Sarah, I want to jump over to you for a moment.  You know, being so involved with Future Ready, one of our core tenants is it’s not technology to use just to use it.  You know, just because something is digital doesn’t mean it’s any good.  Talk to us, Sarah.  How can educators really understand the difference between technology use and just using the technology, per se, and technology integration, or technology infusion?  Like why is that so important for digital equity?


Dr. Sarah Thomas:     So, that’s a great question. I was thinking that I have to give kudos to the team that I currently work with, because one of our members, she also wrote about it in a book, was she found the PICRAT Model by Dr. Royce Kimmons, which looks at the student use of technology, as well as the educator use of technology, and kind of plots things along a matrix.  The purpose is to build capacity so that we are capable, as educators, of delivering creative, transformational lessons.  Now, is every single lesson going to be creative and transformational?  Probably not.  However, being able to deliver those learning opportunities for our students, so we want to definitely make sure as educators that we do have this capability to do so.


So I would say that another example that they shared was thinking of technology as filling, right?  If you think of it as filling and you have a cupcake versus a Twinkie, if you have technology use then that’s just like the filling, the icing on top of the cupcake. You take that icing off and you have the lesson right there.  So that’s not what we want.  We want integration, where the technology is actually serving a purpose to further the lesson and to make the learning opportunities transformational.  The way that it all ties in with equity is that we want each student, we want all students to be able to have the access to these transformational learning opportunities so that all students can be future ready.  So that’s – yeah –


Thomas C. Murray:    You know, one of the resources that I would share with our viewers go back a few years from the Office of Educational Technology called the National Ed Tech Plan.  The reason it’s so good is because it’s written like by practitioners, like we have on our today’s webinar, that really understand what it works – what it looks like when it really works in the classroom.  What I love about it is they coined it – we’ve been talking about the digital divide, the access side, for probably 20 years now, for a long time.  But it’s the digital use divide that they look at it being how it’s used. What you’re talking about, Sarah, there is really starting to contrast part of the active versus the passive use.  We’re not just being the add on, as you’re seeing there as well.  You know, from a research end, the explorer, the design, the create, those are those deeper levels, and when you look at the research behind what districts from a professional learning end, and then ultimately an experience end, are enabling those types of technology things on the whole, it’s typically you’re wealthier or suburban districts, whereas in your more urban districts, or in your districts that have higher rates of poverty, they’re often seen of being more of like an add on and part of that’s the limited professional learning.  Some of that’s just the limited capacity in what’s there.  We know those teachers in those areas are trying amazingly hard, but there’s really some serious inequities when it comes to the instructional side, as you’re referring to there as well, Sarah.  Thank you for sharing that.


You know, I do want to remind our viewers that the hashtag for today’s webinar is #FutureReady.


Nicol, I want to go back over to you if I could. Part of your experience, and you bring a big of a different lens here, is also around teacher preparation programs and fostering digital equity in K-12 classrooms.  Where is that role?  Like what does role look like?  Talk to us from the pipeline before we’re looking at the professional learning end.  What’s that look like?


Dr. Nicol Howard:     Yeah. That’s an ever-changing answer that I would have for that question.  I think it really connects to what you were just talking about, the use and the digital use divide, because a lot of the students who come in now are very familiar or more familiar I should say with how technology is used currently in the classrooms.  So I’m really trying to push them further into critically thinking about the tools that they’re using.  It’s that conversation we were having earlier, so it’s more than just handing out devices in the classroom, although that is important, because now classroom management looks very different than what it looked like years ago, so it’s how are you making sure that you’re maximizing the time for lessons when you’re using technology, making sure all students have the same amount of time in using the tools, or the technology.  But also, it’s about looking deeper at the digital equity issue, recognizing that you may go into a district that is one to four, or one to twenty-five, right?  You may go into a district that has very little technology. You may go into a district that has students that when they go home they don’t have access to anything more than a smartphone.  So how are you thinking about your lessons to make sure that students have the opportunity to use the technologies, but also are really learning from what you’re choosing to bring in?


So we do some practical things, like really examining the tools that are hot, you know, that are currently being used right now, so that when they get ready to go in and have their own classroom that they’re not just picking a tool because it’s popular, but they are very clear about their selection of the technologies, the devices and the tools that they’re using.


Thomas C. Murray:    Yeah. Really well said and I think that focusing on that why and that purpose for that, and that active use, really needs to remain that focus for an equity issue so that we can ensure equitable use throughout.


So, Regina, I want to go back to something that you shared earlier related to computer science.  You said you’re now teaching a computer science course.  There’s been vast inequities in computer science, but talk to us about what implications for digital equity do we have to consider in areas of STEM, such as computer science being one example.  So talk to use about that for a bit.


Regina Schaffer:         Okay. I just want to start by saying, and I wanted to say this a little bit earlier, that although these are digital inequities, some of them area just educational inequities, you know, on top of the digital aspect of it.  So things like high expectations, and higher level thinking is at present, so those are things, and the _____ _____ _____ is, you know, is it current?  Does it, you know, go with some of the things that Sarah was saying with using those kinds of tools to assess what kinds of lessons there are?  I think it’s so multi-faceted.  It’s not black or white and cut and dry.  There’s so many layers and textures to it that you’re going to need a multi-pronged approach.


But getting back to computer science, I definitely feel like we need to shine a light on the fact that in the society that we live in, in the world that we live in, students are going to need computational thinking skills, not just computer science.  I think that if we start to spread that among content areas it wouldn’t be very, you know, just for math and computer science.  That’s the first thing, because we do have _____ _____, as I mentioned.  Now schools have to offer it.  Now we’re going to have a shortage of teachers who can teach it, so now we’re going to have the wealthier school districts be able to pull the experienced computer science teachers, and the less wealthy districts will have less experienced teachers.  So yes, they’ll have computer science, but what will be the quality of that instruction?


So I think we have to, you know, build a pipeline in districts and provide models of best practices.  What does that look like?  I think that we have to be involved with organizations, like ISTE has STEM and computer science PLNs, as well as CSTA, which I’m involved with nationally and locally.  Locally is a great resource.  It really is.  I know that ours in New Jersey, we have three different local – New Jersey, we have three different local chapters.  They are very, very, very active.  Politically they were the push to get the legislation over the past five years they’ve been working with us.  They offer so much in terms of professional learning year round for students for free, students and educators for free.  They provide staff that will come in and work with you.  So I think that districts and schools have to start learning.  I think it’s important for administrators as well.  They have to be current on what is needed in the computer science realm.  How is that going to impact teaching and learning in their district?  What does it look like not just in high school in AP, but what does that look like K-12?  So it’s a great start to push and have access on a high school level, but if they have not done any computer science or computational thinking K-8 they’re already behind.


Thomas C. Murray:    Yeah.  Well said.  You know, I actually pulled up some data, some things that we share on behalf of Future Ready to make it very tangible as well in showing some of the equities and we’ll just take computer science as one example.  So I want to rewind to 2013.


In 2013 there as about 30,000 students across the United States that took the AP computer science test.  Now, granted, that’s one metric, one avenue.  Of course, there’s so many other ways to look at it and to measure it, but process this for a minute.  So in 2013 18.5 percent of test takers were female.  Only 3.7 percent were black and only 8.1 percent were Hispanic.  Now, numbers like that don’t tell all the data.  Let me give you a further example.


In 11 states not a single African American student took the exam.  In 8 states not a single Hispanic student took the exam.  States.


So when we look at it the hope that I have is let’s fast forward to 2017.  Female jumped to 27 percent.  Black jumped to 5 percent and Hispanic jumped to 15 percent.  If we even go another year further Black had gone up 44 percent and Hispanic up another 41 percent, and female another 39 percent.  Part of it’s because things like, as Regina shared earlier in her district, or in her state, every student, so we’re offering more and more to more students, but we have to continue to focus on who is taking in these different areas.  So it’s fascinating to see from 2013 to 2019 some of those changes, but here’s the challenge.  There’s so much more work that still needs to be done.  The positive, it’s obvious that some places really are starting to focus on it so as well.


Regina, Sarah, or Nicol, do you want to jump in at all?   Regina, thank you for sharing that wealth of knowledge there.  Sarah or Nicol, any thoughts on that as well?


Dr. Nicol Howard:     Well, Tom, I’m just going to jump in if you don’t mind.  I don’t know if  you knew that I’m also co-editor for the Journal of Computer Science Integration with a really great colleague of mine, Dr. Keith Howard, who I don’t – I’m sorry – I’m just kidding.  I do know him very well actually.  I joke about that a lot, but my husband actually just published two articles related to this issue of equity in computer science and he raises the question about really the idea of searching for equity in this two-tiered solution to under representation.  He also raises the question about whether all AP computer science is created equal and he compares AP computer science to computer science principles and so it’s two really great pieces if our listeners have a chance to read them.  It really touches on this issue of equity and computer science and is pushing us forward a bit and really asking us to look at who has the opportunity and who doesn’t have the opportunity to take the AP computer science courses and which courses are students being placed in and are we really setting them up for success?


Thomas C. Murray:    Yeah.  And I would add to that what are you actively doing to recruit those folks in those classes so we have diverse classes?  You know, from our females to our students of color, are we making sure that we are doing everything we can to encourage those students to take that, because it goes back to, Nicol, what you said very early on, if they don’t feel like they belong they’re not going to be there.  If they don’t see it as an opportunity, they don’t know that opportunity exists, they’re not going to be able to do that, so very, very well said.


I do want to remind our viewers that the hashtag for today’s webinar is #FutureReady.


I want to wrap up with a couple of quick questions here.  Nicol, you just pointed to the future, so let’s think towards that future a little bit.


Sarah, I want to go back over to you for a moment if I could?  What areas of educational technology do you think have really played the biggest role in recent years and what might we expect to see in that future?  So how does all of that relate to digital equity?


Dr. Sarah Thomas:     Yeah.  So to take the last part of your question first, I’ll just kind of do a little flip-flop, so everything that my colleagues have said I agree with 100 percent.  Like it’s all about being able to deliver, to be our best selves as educators, so that we can provide the best learning opportunities for students.


So it would be really helpful in the writing of the book, particularly book one, to kind of take a look back to see what has informed where we’re going, where we are and where we’re going.  It seems like we started looking at 2004 at the Horizon Reports in 2004 And started pulling – those were the higher ed ones and the ones for K-12 began, I believe, in 2008 and just kind of seeing that and looking at, you know, what kind of happened every year, what was in the short-term projections to be implemented at a wide scale level in one to three years, and then mid-range reports for the six years, and then long-range, seven to ten years.  So in looking at that then some trends really started to emerge.  Like, for example, in recent years it seems that the main things that have played a role, they seem to fit within one of three different categories.


So the first one was social media, the role of social media and whether or not, you know, we use it as individual.  It doesn’t matter, because it has such an impact on our society.


The second thing was regarding devices, so not a lot of new devices have been created; however, what we can do with them has evolved over the years significantly.  So they just keep getting better, and faster, and access bandwidth starts to become more and more ubiquitous, so we’re seeing that, you know, wherever we go there’s still access issue, there’s still definitely issues of access, but when you step outside, when you go to the mall, then a lot of times the Wi-Fi will be there.


The third thing is artificial intelligence.  So when you look at these three things and you look at them in isolation, as well as together in combination, then you kind of see different factors that have come about over the years.


So the way that this relates to digital equity is that we, as educators, need to stay up on these things so that we can best prepare our students, because nobody really knows what the future is going to hold, but we can definitely take some trends from the past to inform what they may be seeing in their own futures.


Thomas C. Murray:    Right.  Well said.  Regina or Nicol, do you want to add to that at all?  You think we’re pretty good?


Dr. Nicol Howard:     Sarah hit it.


Thomas C. Murray:    Sarah hit it.  She did.  She did.  I want to point out one other area of inequities that we talked through through Future Ready that Sarah started to touch on and that is the access fees.  I love how you all have focused on the opportunities piece, because it is not just about the device. It is not just about the connectivity, but one of the things that is important to note, at the Alliance for Excellent Education we worked alongside the FCC with a lot of other organizations, ISTE, and _____, and so on and so forth, taking a look at what’s been coding the homework gap in the last number of years.


It estimates about five million of our nation’s families do not have the needed internet access at home.  Disproportionately, it’s our Black and Hispanic families.  So a plea to any district or any user that’s listening to this, if we’re requiring kids to do something digital outside of school it is our moral imperative to make sure they can do what we are asking them to do.  The reassurance that I have is many districts are really attacking that issue from community Wi-Fi, to hot spots, to doing whatever they can and they’re really taking a multi-pronged approach.  But it’s important to make sure we’re not just talking the school piece; we’re also talking about the life outside of our schools, outside of our walls, and ensuring equitable opportunities outside as well, but we know educators are attacking this and doing great things.


I want to wrap up with a final question, really looking at, you know, districts are all over the map when it comes to how they’re attacking digital equity.  Your book is an incredible resource that’s very practical in nature to support them in that, but what advice to you each have for districts that are out there, some are really just getting started, some have been attacking this for years now, what advice do you have?


So, Nicol, I’m going to go back over to you first.  Speaking broadly, what advice do you have with all of your expertise, and from your lens, what recommendations do you have for districts?


Dr. Nicol Howard:     I would recommend to districts who are doing this work and have been doing this work, I would recommend that they take this opportunity to level up.  Find out what the new issues are.  You just mentioned it.  We have the homework and the home connectivity concern.  So I would just challenge them to really level up and go back and re-evaluate, because just because it feels like you’ve reached equity, it doesn’t always mean that you’re truly there, because things are constantly changing.


For a district that’s new and just starting, I would challenge them to find out, still, what are the current concerns of not just your teachers and you students, but also your families at home.  Find out what ways you can support and to create opportunities for your teachers to truly learn how to close those equity gaps.


Thomas C. Murray:    So well said.  How about Regina?  Over to you.


Regina Schaffer:         I echo definitely what Nicol said, and we have talked about devices and bandwidth, but I do want to say that, as you said, there is still a problem and I think people don’t realize that the type of access at home, so a family might say that they have access, but is it like dial up?  Like what speed?  That makes a difference.  I think that that’s the next level in thinking about those types of things as well.  Yes, there’s still problems and there’s still programs out there, so I would definitely suggest to schools and districts to look into the programs like Sprint.  I just secured some for – there’s still money for those kinds of things, for my district.


And we didn’t touch on this, but I think it’s important and it’s in our book too, is adding, well you did a little bit, adding culturally responsive teaching, integrating that into, you know, the practices, and the training, and the learning so that it is multi-layered.


Thomas C. Murray:    Yeah. Well said.  I’ll add one more resource. is also one of our Future Ready partners.  You type in your zip code and you can look at the low-cost Wi-Fi options available in your area, where your school district is as well.


And last, but certainly not least, Sarah, what advice do you have?


Dr. Sarah Thomas:     I would speak to the individual educators and talk about the free resources that we can use to continue to learn and grow together.  Regina was talking earlier about the PLN and definitely, I wanted to echo that.  So wherever we’re connected, you know, there’s a community of educators out there willing to learn and grow together.  So definitely tap into those networks, tap into those opportunities.


Thomas C. Murray:    Brilliantly said, ladies.  I do want to remind our viewers that information on Future Ready schools can be found at  We encourage and challenge district superintendents to join over 3,300 others and sign a Future Ready District Pledge.  We also encourage our school leaders watching today to join us at one of this year’s free Future Ready Institutes.  For more on these great events, check out


I also want to encourage our viewers to get involved with some of our growing strands, from district leaders, to tech leaders, to principals, to librarians, and to instructional coaches, which both Regina and Sarah are involved with.  We have vastly expanded the reach of Future Ready schools over the last few years, and check out our private Facebook groups there as well for ongoing activities, as well as to stay connected with other educators working alongside youth throughout the nation.


I do want to thank our amazing, amazing guests today, incredible ladies.  Thank you, ladies, for sharing.  Congrats, again, on your book.  You were just incredible.  Thank you for sharing your stories there as well.


Thank you, our viewers, for joining us for this Future Ready webinar.  Don’t forget to connect with us here at Future Ready on Twitter at FutureReady, and on Facebook at


If you missed any of today’s conversation it’s going to be archived at soon after this webinar.  On that page you will also see a list of upcoming webinars.  You can also find the Alliance’s Google hangouts on the YouTube channel there as well.


For those of you taking part in our Action Academy Badging Platform, the password for today’s webinar is very fitting.  It’s Equity.


Thank you, again, for joining us here at Future Ready.  Have a fabulous day and we will see all soon.


[End of Audio]


Categories: Digital Equity, Equity, Future Ready

Action Academy

Welcome to the Alliance for Excellent Education’s Action Academy, an online learning community of education advocates. We invite you to create an account, expand your knowledge on the most pressing issues in education, and communicate with others who share your interests in education reform.

Register Now

or register for Action Academy below:

Join the Conversation

Your email is never published nor shared.

What is this?
Multiply 12 by 2 =
The simple math problem you are being asked to solve is necessary to help block spam submissions.



Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.