Whether you call it No Child Left Behind or Every Student Succeeds, the underlying principle for public education is based on the concept that every child should have the opportunity to learn, grow and contribute to society. That opportunity was defined in the Educational Equity theory as equal access, participation and outcome (Brookover and Lezotte, 1981).
When schools were closed in March with a goal of ‘flattening the curve’ and public education quickly shifted to distance learning, access was measured differently overnight: instead of classrooms, desks, and textbooks, it was devices and wi-fi. The digital divide led administrators and teachers scurrying to distribute chomebooks off the carts that were usually shuttled between classes and into students’ homes. Getting internet service was another challenge. Free wi-fi at the library and Corner Bakery were shutdown too. While some internet providers worked with districts or provided low cost options, others became creative placing hot spots in buses and parking them in strategic locations and teachers created paper packets that students could work through in lieu of online lessons. Many just excused the work and impacted students were at a standstill.
We all expected to be back in classrooms in the fall and since we aren’t, access is again the name of the game. For students that have internet service and a laptop or tablet, give them some initial training and they are on the way. What about those kids that don’t have a computer or wi-fi in their homes? Will paper packets cut it for the fall semester? If not, how will they make up this lost time, especially after likely falling behind since March.
Our success as an education system now depends on providing access for all students. Our charter school provides a laptop and internet stipend to those that qualify. I applaud the school districts that had adequate inventory of devices and those that have taken steps over the past months to get there. I also applaud non-profit organizations that are holding device drives such as Fresh Beginnings Ministries. I am hopeful that school administrators will be able to develop plans to safely repurpose gyms and outdoor areas to provide wi-fi options at school and community facilities.
The ACT Center for Equity in Learning works to close the gap in equity, opportunity and achievement for underserved populations. Completed in 2018, their research report “Digital Divide Compounds US Education Equity Problem” unveiled the issue and advocated for increased device and internet access as a need prior to the pandemic.
As an online educator, it is our responsibility to identify students that don’t have access and bring their need to the forefront. Teachers are on the frontline interfacing with students and parents and may be the first to learn of these deficits.
A is for Access; anything else is a Fail.