Digital Divide Affecting Education Even More

New analysis shows 15-16 million kids—20% more than previous estimates—and as many as 400,000 teachers lack adequate internet or computing devices at home

Southern states have largest divides, but even among states with smallest divides, 25% of students lack adequate internet connection

A full 15-16 million public school students across the U.S. live in households without adequate internet access or computing devices to facilitate distance learning, according to analysis from Common Sense and Boston Consulting Group, which 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, sets a one-year price tag of between $6-11 billion to connect all kids at home, and an additional $1 billion to close the divide for teachers.

According to the study, “This digital divide is a major problem for students in all 50 states and all types of communities but is most pronounced in rural communities and households with Black, Latinx, and Native American students.” Analysis shows that the states with the highest numbers of students without adequate internet connection to study (25/3 Mbps download/upload) also happen to be the states with the highest English Learner populations—Texas: 1.8 million; California: 1.5 million; Florida: 800,000; and New York: 725,000.

“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 report also highlights the need for digital literacy training for families unfamiliar with digital technology, and 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. But 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.

Download the report here.

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