Homework Gap Recommendations

Connecting North Carolina: State Broadband Plan


The Homework Gap

  • The homework gap occurs when students are assigned homework requiring access to the internet but don’t have home access.
  • Nationally, 70 percent of teachers assign homework that requires broadband access, but only 33 percent of students have access at home.


RECOMMENDATION 1: Leverage school’s digital infrastructure for use by the community as a whole

HG1.1 | The state should advocate for E-Rate reforms to allow for school districts negotiating internet service contracts or contract renewals to give greater preference to providers committed to serving the community.

  • At this time, the FCC and Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) 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—by-pass unserved or underserved residents.

HG1.2 | The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and the Friday Institute at North Carolina State University should provide instruction for school administrators on drafting Request for Proposals (RFPs).

  • 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 (WAN). 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 of the school. These include equipping buses with Wi-Fi access points, Mi-Fi checkouts through the schools, the libraries or non-profits, 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 nation-wide, 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 percent 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.

RECOMMENDATION 2: Better data on North Carolina’s homework gap.

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 NC State University (NCSU) 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 NC Government Data Analytics Center (GDAC) could assist with data gathering and analysis.

RECOMMENDATION 3: Enhance and expand adoption initiatives targeted at students and parents.

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 non-profits 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.
  • BIO should encourage the duplication of non-profits like the Kramden Institutes’ (Durham, NC) and E2D (Davidson, NC) in other locations across the state through education efforts.
  • Once the NC Digital Learning Plan is fully implemented DPI and school districts should use savings from text book purchases to purchase devices for the students without a device in the home.

HG3.3 | Encourage creation and/or expansion of tech-based curriculum in K-12 schools

  • 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, and 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, and in an effort to address the variety of technology job opportunities, DPI or school districts should explore the creation of a pilot curriculum or class at schools focused on computer repair and refurbishment. Schools can partner with community colleges, non-profits 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.

RECOMMENDATION 4: Greater use of the Lifeline program and low-cost provider programs.

HG4.1 | BIO should partner with DPI, NC’s Local Education Authorities (LEAs), and individual school districts to publicize the Lifeline program.

HG4.2 | BIO should partner with DPI, LEA’s, and individual school districts to publicize NC providers’ low-cost broadband subscription programs.


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