The homework gap occurs when students assigned homework requiring access to the internet don’t have home access. Nationally, 70% of teachers assign homework that requires broadband access, but only 33% of students have access at home.
HG1.1: The state should advocate for e-rate reforms to allow school districts negotiating internet service contracts or contract renewals to give greater preference to providers committed to serving the community.
At this time, the Federal Communications Commission and Universal Service Administrative Company approve funding for service contracts that award to the lowest bidder. This has created a market that encourages the cherry-picking of schools. In some cases, these providers – including start-ups created for the sole purpose of winning lucrative school contracts – bypass unserved or underserved residents.
HG1.2: The N.C. Department of Public Instruction and the Friday Institute at North Carolina State University should provide instructions for school administrators on drafting requests for proposals.
The RFPs should appropriately give additional weight to ISPs that plan to provide service for the community within a designated area beyond the wide area network. This can include an RFP that incentivizes providers by combining service to libraries.
HG1.3: School districts and communities should invest in low-cost mobile service solutions.
Many school districts around the state and country use fixed and mobile wireless solutions to provide access outside schools. These include equipping buses with wi-fi access points and mi-fi checkouts through schools, libraries, nonprofits and faith-based organizations.
Low-cost/low-bandwidth cellular solutions are being piloted and could provide another solution. Bandwidth is limited and filtered for access to teacher-approved sites. It prevents access to data-rich sites or unapproved websites.
The planning and build-out of a nationwide, interoperable wireless data network – FirstNet – is ongoing. The dedicated spectrum for FirstNet includes significant bandwidth. The state should advocate at the federal level that FirstNet and national leaders consider secondary or non-primary uses – SecondNet – of the network for educational purposes. FirstNet pledges approximately 100% coverage. Students without access should be able to access the network for completing homework or researching until an emergency incident or event.
HG1.4: The state should designate an e-rate coordinator.
This individual or office (could be the existing DPI coordinator) would provide one centralized place for knowledge to support all eligible institutions. This will ensure the state is fully leveraging E-Rate discounts for schools and libraries.
Further research and granular data are needed to enable policy makers and community leaders to focus resources and determine appropriate solutions.
HG2.1: The state should distribute a survey in the schools for parents to complete and return to obtain more granular data on where the homework gap exists. This could be a telephone, internet or paper survey (or all of the above) targeted at parents. The Friday Institute at North Carolina State University is regarded nationally for developing and evaluating these types of surveys.
HG2.2: Measure the homework gap using non-survey data, such as logs from Power School, speed tests or other applications. MCNC measures and can analyze all school district data. The N.C. Government Data Analytics Center could assist with data gathering and analysis.
HG3.1: The state should leverage the K-12 education system to reach children and their parents.
School or community-led initiatives should include consistent and continuous education for parents on technology tools their children should use in and out of the classroom. Schools and communities can host digital literacy training for parents at the schools or libraries during after-work hours. It can include remote, video-based training.
HG3.2: Expand device delivery to low-income families, especially those with K-12 students.
The state should explore amending the State Surplus law, NCGS 143-64.02, to allow discarded devices to be donated to nonprofits that refurbish and donate computers to low-income families and families with K-12 students in the home, which will increase device access. Universities should consider computer donations to non-profits.
The N.C. Broadband Infrastructure Office should encourage the duplication of nonprofits like the Kramden Institutes (Durham) and E2D (Davidson) in other locations across the state through education efforts.
Once the NC Digital Learning Plan is fully implemented, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction and school districts should use savings from textbook purchases to purchase devices for students without a device in the home.
HG3.3: Encourage creation and/or expansion of tech-based curriculum in K-12 schools.
N.C. DPI should develop a curriculum with standard requirements for students with a technology proclivity or interest that includes the study and training of data analytics and coding. It should be a real-time, modern, flexible, personalized curriculum, so students are exposed to the most current learning and information.
It should also showcase technology employment opportunities to expose to possibilities technical training enables.
The state should create a technology apprenticeship program for high school students to receive course credit in exchange for working with or at technology companies.
In addition, to address the variety of technology job opportunities, N.C. DPI or school districts should explore the creation of a pilot curriculum or classes at schools focused on computer repair and refurbishment. Schools can partner with community colleges, nonprofits or device manufacturers in the state to develop the curriculum and provide instructors. Refurbished computers can then be donated to other students in need or to community organizations that facilitate access to devices for low-income individuals and families.
HG4.1: The N.C. Broadband Infrastructure Office should partner with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, local education authorities and individual school districts to publicize the Lifeline program.
HG4.2: The N.C. Broadband Infrastructure Office should partner with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, local education authorities and individual school districts to publicize N.C. providers’ low-cost broadband subscription programs.